Westlife, Ireland's contribution to the boy band phenomenon, have clocked in with a polished, professional first album.
Drawing the inevitable comparisons to the Backstreet Boys, Take 5, 'N Sync and legions of others, this quintet was concocted (and are managed) by Louis Walsh and Ronan Keating from the UK's Boyzone.
The "boy band chops" are firmly in hand on the group's debut. The arrangements are all pretty much R&B/easy-listening smooth, but the songs manage to avoid becoming completely cloying. The layered backup vocals can be a bit much, but a love song titled "Flying Without Wings" just wouldn't be the same without the huge, uplifting chorus at the end.
There seem to be very few non-programmed instruments on this album (a flute here, a guitar there), but with five singers, something has to take a backseat. The songs are nonetheless lushly produced and well-constructed, with lots of catchy hooks but nothing that could be considered "edgy."
The album's 13 tracks (with titles like "Swear It Again," "If I Let You Go" and "I Have a Dream") seem to cover two themes: loving you and missing you.
The vocals provided by Nicky Byrne, Shane Filan, Kian Egan, Mark Feehily and Bryan McFadden are strong. Their voices are varied enough to harmonize nicely and allow for some diversity in the lead singing.
Sadly, there is nothing even slightly Irish about any of the voices or the music; it's all been poured carefully into the established mold. Even so, there are much worse prefab packages out there.