Westlife

Turnaround

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On the Westlife shore of soft and sappy love, Turnaround involves a pebble toss toward rock, and it's all the better for it. If it had gone all the way, if it had found a producer willing to risk fortunes on morphing a pop group into a rock group, something remarkable may have happened. As it stands, it is a notch above typical, but only a notch. It is also the final album before the great turnover, in which lead vocalist Brian McFadden fled the group, stating that, "It's hard to juggle two lives when you've got a family." He subsequently reemerged as a solo artist and professed disgruntlement over the requirements associated with boy band captivity, which included shaving every day. When interviewed by Wil Marlow of The Journal, McFadden said, "I was standing there trying to sing a song like "Mandy" and be all emotional when I've never even met a Mandy." Surely he had met a Mandy, among the legions of fans the group had collected by this, their fourth original album. But having an artistic and independent view on a group's output would definitely cause friction when the producer is American Idol's stubborn Simon Cowell, who insisted the song be included. Ironically, Barry Manilow never wanted to record the song either, but his producer, Clive Davis, insisted. Yes, the song is included here, was the first release off the album, and became their 12th number one hit on the U.K. charts. But there are far more interesting goings on on the album, starting with "Hey Whatever," which is unconventional pop, trendy but hypnotic and declarative in its shun-the-world-and-find-your-bliss message. It's not exactly preaching the gospel, but it's as joyous as a lively black church service, with music that might inspire pew evacuation in favor of dancing in the aisles. The title track and "Thank You" follow in a similar, but less provocative, upbeat vein. Their surprising cover choice of Mr. Big's classic "To Be with You" lacks testosterone compared to its original, but it's nevertheless adequate. The rest of the tracks teeter between softer pop and ballads, of which "Obvious" stands out, with backing vocals that sound either wistful or magical, depending on the listener's mood. Diane Warren contributes a selection, as does Christian songwriting team Tommy Sims and Wayne Kirkpatrick, who have worked closely with Amy Grant and Michael W. Smith, but have written here a secular and soulful R&B ballad, requiring voice keys to rise higher than has been heard from Westlife before. Turnaround should have pushed for a 180 degree turn; it made it about 90 degrees, and that's 90 degrees none too shabby.

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