Album Review: Westlife – World of Our Own (2001)

Released: November 2001 // Label: BMG // Chart peak: UK #1

This album is as good as Westlife gets.

Granted, these guys were never as involved in album production as Take That’s members are. And they were never willing to send out an album of all-originals, like Boyzone. They never had the dancing talent of NSYNC or the Backstreet Boys. No Ivor Novello award like East 17. By all accounts, they seem a second-rate boy band.

Actually, the low odds of success are what make World of Our Own a surprise hit. And I would beat that horse a little more dead if it were not painfully obvious – as it must be to Westlife’s members – that they owe a substantial amount of their success to their producers. The culprits here are all-stars Yacoub and Mac, and a handful of Swedish songwriters. You can never go wrong with Swedish songwriters.

Some of these songs really are drivel to the core. Lyrically, they wouldn’t receive a passing grade on any non-boy-band album. But the production magic worked and reworked that crap into gold.

Westlife does its typical ballads quite well here. “Queen of My Heart,” “I Wanna Grow Old With You,” and “Evergreen” sound like they’d be awful and trite, but relying heavily on a wall of instrumentation and Mark Feehily’s superior vocals, they massacre your expectations and end on a fabulous high. Of course, there are predictable key changes galore; but let’s not think too hard about templates, because these guys are marketing to under-25’s – not Sting.

Let’s talk more about Mark Feehily. Where lead vocalists Shane Filan and Brian McFadden have voices like stale pancakes, Feehily has a sizzly, bacony kind of voice. There’s no doubt Filan and McFadden perform some very competent melodies on World, but there’s a reason they aren’t trying to hit the notes Feehily cranks out effortlessly. Feehily has an impressive range, and he makes vocal choices the others just don’t. Ever. He throws out a Bee-Gee-esque falsetto on “Why Do I Love You,” nails the ranged bridge of “To Be Loved,” and delivers a stunning performance with all the above on “Imaginary Diva.”

World of Our Own would hold up as a pop masterpiece just on the merits of its uptempo recordings. “World of Our Own” and “When You’re Looking Like That” are competitors for greatest Westlife singles, and cement the band’s place among the great European pop artists (thanks, Steve Mac). The less said about “Bop Bop Baby” the better. But “When You Come Around” is pretty flawless pop, thanks to Filan’s unadventurous maneuvering. He must be operating on an “if you don’t try, you don’t fail” philosophy.

Finally, Westlife beat down that accusation (applied ad nauseam) of being “nothing but a cover band” on World of Our Own, where the covers are few and not mismatched. “Uptown Girl” survives especially well because Billy Joel relied heavily on BGV’s for the sound of the original, a tribute to Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. Westlife is the closest thing to Motown Ireland will ever produce, so they’re great at background vocals (it’s what they do!). It’s really no surprise this song became a massive bestseller.

Their cover of Sarah McLachlan’s “Angel” doesn’t push too hard to eclipse the master version. Obviously, there are more people in Westlife than there are in Sarah McLachlan, so it’s not as haunting when set in the comforting aura of a bunch of young men harmonizing. But it sounds natural for them to do a stripped-down ballad, not awkward, like their 2010 cover of metal band Hoobastank’s “The Reason.”

Overall: Pop drivel turned gold, thanks to the Swedes, Mark Feehily, and veteran producers.

Grade: B

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