Album Reviews: Westlife, Peter Capaldi, Julie Doiron.

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Album Reviews: Westlife, Peter Capaldi, Julie Doiron.

If the boy band’s sound of 2021 consists of anthemic choruses, layered synths and booming stadium drums, then Westlife wants in.

The popularity of the Irish boy band Westlife is one of the most startling phenomena in modern music. With an endless supply of sour ballads and a penchant for getting off their stools when the key change sets in, they just stand behind the Beatles and Elvis Presley in UK No. 1 singles. When I hit play on their latest album Wild dreams, I wonder again how all this happened.

This is essentially an album that’s half over-emotional ballads, half BTS-style stadium striker. It’s fair enough: everyone is trying to be BTS right now, right down to Coldplay, who even went so far as to recruit the Korean boy band to work together (it’s believed that Westlife’s emails went unanswered).

I wouldn’t go as far as to call Westlife pop chameleons, but they have a knack for delivering exactly what is going to sell right now (although I should point out that the first single on this album is only there by No. 66).

So what is missing? Do they need Walsh and Cowell marketing expertise at the height of their power? Or is it simply the curse of the teen heartthrob who is destined to sell their old hits until they retire because no one wants anything from them but nostalgia?

The slandered “Starlight” has an energy that is hard to resist, while “Alive” insists that “the world will dance again,” which is cheap in both feel and sound. “Alone Together” is Beaver-esque TikTok bait complete with electronic twiddles, and “Wild Dreams” is almost impossible to hear without thinking of Rihanna and DJ Khaled’s stormy “Wild Thoughts”.

The ballads are, to be honest, a combination of the irritatingly familiar (how does “Do you ever think of me?” Sound like? Answers on a postcard) and exhaustively over-the-top. The obvious answer may be that they just aren’t that good – but hasn’t that always been the case?

Stream: Starlight, do you ever think of me alone together

Enigmatic doctor, cursed spider dealer, what now? With his first album, Peter Capaldi has returned to his youthful love for atmospheric guitar music. This isn’t a cynical cash-in for mom-pleasing covers like, say, Nick Knowles’ 2017 album Any kind of people, nor is it a facsimile of the chart-devastating fare of his distant relative Lewis. It is indeed an album of original songs, written by the good doctor, sung like a man channeling Nick Caves and Bowie’s dark moments.

Capaldi was in a punk band as a teenager and St. Christopher certainly borrows from the darker sounds of that era, but leaves the energetic pogo-inducing songs behind.

Youth is a ghost that haunts the record: On “Impossible Youth” he shrugs his shoulders at the naivety of old age in Jarvis Cocker sounds; in “Little Bit of Class” he’s a child again. Lost love, time and memories hang heavily across the board.

It’s all a bit rough around the edges, like a project that’s not quite finished: charming, if not compelling.

Stream: It’s not over until it’s done St. Christopher, take what you need

Canadian singer-songwriter Julie Doiron hasn’t released a solo album in nine years – not since 2012 So many days.

During this time, singers like Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker and Courtney Barnett have picked up their coat and worked their pain out over a simple, nondescript guitar line.

Doiron doesn’t sound phased by these climbers: on I thought of you, she sounds comfortable in her skin, wraps stories of tiffs and cracks around warm guitars.

The mesmerizing “Just When I Thought” combines folk harmonies and an otherworldly riff that sounds like a microwave beep and a raindrop come together and pollinate each other as Doiron tries to figure out whether a relationship is over or not. It’s confused and upset and dreary with sadness – an accurate portrait of a heart in danger.

“Here I am, start again”, she sings on the resigned opener “You Gave Me the Key”. It’s not a bad starting point.

Stream: Just when I thought they wanted me to tell

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