Allow Us To Be Frank


ixteen weeks spent watching The X-Factor taught us three things. Firstly, Sharon Osbourne is the anti-MILF. Secondly, Tabby needs to fuck off pronto to whatever Top Shop modelling shoot he was spawned from and never come back. And thirdly, Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh, despite their positions at the two führers of the pop reich over the past decade, are inherently different men. Cowell is an intelligent, articulate media manipulator who has a sixth sense for what the public wants and then gives it to them, a man who rides the horse until it goes no longer, then shoots and eats it. Louis Walsh on the other hand never gives an impression or aura of knowing what he’s doing, and instead appears to have bumbled, Mr. Bean-like, into the music business instead of following his true calling, that of a lookalike for end of the pier gagsmith Jimmy “There’s More!” Cricket. True, this is the man responsible for the careers of Boyzone (biggest act of the late 90s), B*Witched (first four singles entered at #1), and Girls Aloud (actually quite good), but there’s never really a sense that he’s part of some gigantic pop conspiracy to manipulate the kiddies, rather that he’s just the Forrest Gump of production line pop, a man who happened to be there whilst it was happening.

Anyway, Westlife, who were once five, are now four, as Br(y/i)an has left the band in order to spend more time sending his wife to a mental asylum. So how has Louis decided to let everyone know that its clear waters for HMS Westlife and that there’s no need to change course? Why, by ditching the faux-Britpop of the previous album and releasing an LP of Rat Pack covers, of course!

Spot the immediate problem here yet? The Rat Pack consisted of a mobster, an alcoholic and a Satanist. One of the biggest megalomaniacs in the history of the music industry, one of the most fallible pop stars of all time, and a man who had to play nearly every gig of his adult life in the shadows of threats from the KKK. Westlife, on the other hand, contain a guy who had a trial for Leeds United. The Rat Pack are charisma, Westlife are a celebration of vanilla. It’s a recipe for failure, but only in the “actually enjoying an album” sense. Commercially, these songs, all of which are suitable only for advertising cooking sauces, will shift in the same huge numbers that Westlife always have, despite their inability to bring any emotion, presence, or mastery of the stage or voices to these songs. Westlife’s take on the Rat Pack is like listening to four clones of Peter Lawford.

It’s hard to know what brings the most salt tears to the ducts of any sane lounge music fan over the course of this album. Opener “Ain’t That A Kick In The Head” is the most destructive thing to have happened to Dean Martin since emphysema. “Fly Me To The Moon”, always one of the least engaging songs in the Sinatra catalogue, here becomes a kind of purgatory wherein you’re trapped in a lift-tower for all eternity, and the only thing working is the muzak. There is no attempt at recreating Sammy Davis Jr on this album, mainly because that would have been attempting a style too contemporary for Westlife. “Smile” sounds like Daniel O’Donnell. In fact, scratch that, this entire album sounds like Daniel O’Donnell. The banality of this entire project is so great that at times you begin to wish that Jamie Cullum would show up to at least butcher a song totally. But, no, all you got are these low-fat, no-carb, fair-trade caffeine-free takes on what are unapologetic, drug-taking, alcohol abusing, sexually deviant, racially dubious anthems from three of the finest anti-heroes from the 20th century. The Rat Pack were not nice people, attempting to resell them as granny’s favourites is an insult to both the memory of them and the intelligence of the elderly.

Of course there’s some good stuff on this album: the writing. These are still, by and large, perfect songs, but lounge music was the hip-hop of its day, and these tunes are nothing without a charismatic performer to carry them off. It’s the difference between Dean Martin and Andy Williams, NWA and The Roots, Diego Maradona and Phil Neville. A perfunctory runthrough of “That’s Life” ends the album, and its far more Travelodge than Sands. William Blake’s view on the nature of man was that it was a constant battle for possession of the soul between good and evil, two natures contained within the essence of every being. Louis Walsh’s ability to deliver this album in the same month as Girls Aloud’s What Will The Neighbours Say? is conclusive proof for this case. Still, great title, no?

Reviewed by: Dom Passantino
Reviewed on: 2004-12-15
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