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  • Irish four-piece Westlife are still going strong 11 years after scoring a U.K. and U.S. hit with debut single "Swear It Again," having avoided the usual "three albums, greatest hits, breakup" career trajectory of most boy bands. But while their chart statistics remain impressive on paper (the previous year's Where We Are and lead single both reached number two), they have been pretty much irrelevant since 2005's Face to Face. Content to release a new album every November, just in time for an X-Factor performance to boost Christmas present-led sales, and then disappear for the following ten months, they've become a seasonal act in the vein of Cliff Richard and Daniel O'Donnell, rather than a contemporary pop presence. But having had the festive period sewn up for the past decade, they now face their toughest test yet, with boy bands both older (the revitalized Take That) and younger (the chart-topping JLS and the Wanted) all releasing albums off the back of huge number ones and airplay staples. But despite claims that Gravity, incredibly their tenth studio album, is the best and most varied of their career, its 12 tracks produced by John Shanks (Bon Jovi) aren't exactly a huge departure from their late-noughties output. Indeed, the likes of lead single "Safe" and "Closer" are the kind of epic Take That-esque pop/rock ballads that they've attempted on their last two releases. And while the first half of their career saw them rely heavily on covers of distinctly easy listening favorites Barry Manilow, Bette Midler, and Brian Kennedy, Gravity continues their more recent tradition of reworking U.S. soft rock anthems, with Hoobastank's "The Reason" given the same MOR polish as previous renditions of tracks by Lonestar and Daughtry. Apart from the minor flashes of electro on opener "Beautiful Tonight" and "No One's Gonna Sleep Tonight," the rest of the album is filled with the same kind of clich‚d "stand up for the key change" ballads they are notoriously famous for. The only surprise appears with a faithful cover version of "Chances," the string-led epic from Brit-pop also-rans Athlete, a rather offbeat inclusion considering their predictable and unadventurous history. However, Westlife aren't exactly well known for their original streak, so hardcore fans are unlikely to be disappointed with its safe and familiar sound. But with far more exciting and inventive material from their contemporaries, it could struggle to match the success of their other multi-platinum releases. ~ Jon O'Brien
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