In the six years since his last "proper" studio effort, Ronan Keating has reunited with his '90s boy band Boyzone, had to deal with the tragic loss of bandmate Steven Gately, and split from his wife of 13 years after an alleged affair. Not that you'd know any of this from his ninth solo record, Fires, a return to the joyous guitar pop of his early-2000s material which offers little, if any, insight into the most turbulent period of his personal life. It's a missed opportunity to reveal the real man behind the sunny Irish disposition then, but Fires does suggest that Keating has got some of his creative mojo back. Indeed, after four albums of Mothers' Day-friendly cover versions, it's quite the shock that every single one of Fires' 12 tracks is a new composition, and even more so that the number of uptempo songs far outweigh the ballads. There are even brushes with campy, Scissor Sisters-esque disco-pop on "NYC Girl" and hip-hop with "Lullaby," although Kizmusic's awkward rap on the latter is hopelessly misguided. But it's the two numbers penned with previous cohort, former New Radicals frontman Gregg Alexander, that are likely to provide the hits. "Nineteen Again" is essentially a retread of his chart-topper "Life Is a Rollercoaster," but it's so infectious it doesn't really matter, while the feel-good, '80s FM rock of "Get Back to What Is Real" proves Keating is far more tolerable when he's trying to be Bryan Adams rather than Daniel O'Donnell. The romantic "Easy Now My Dear" and "The One You Love" should add to his canon of offensively inoffensive wedding favorites. But overall, the schmaltz is kept to a bare minimum on a record which might just prove to be the kick up the backside his solo career needed.
by Jon O'Brien