There comes an inevitable point in the career of a boyband where members are eager to test the waters alone, free of the many musical and image restrictions boybands are lumbered with. Westlife enjoyed an immensely successful fourteen year career – one of the longest reigns in boyband history. During their career, they sold over fifty million records worldwide, achieved fourteen number one singles in the UK and released ten successful albums. Furthermore, Westlife were one of very few bands to survive the loss of a band member, successfully continuing a further eight years following Bryan McFadden’s departure in 2004. Whatever the mainstream perception, Westlife were without a doubt a sturdy and incredibly successful enterprise. Upon their departure in 2012, Shane Filan wasted no time in releasing solo material (presumably due to his well documented bankruptcy) to great success. Mark Feehily (or Markus Feehily as he is now known) on the other hand, took a brief hiatus before writing and recording his début album.
‘Fire’ is a dark, emotive affair; eleven tracks of sheer power. Whilst some moments are reminiscent of Westlife’s final album ‘Gravity’, overall it takes an experimental approach, resulting in a far more mature, contemporary and bold assortment of tracks than were ever found on any Westlife album. Feehily is finally able to spread his wings and thoroughly showcase his robust vocals. And that he does on ‘Fire’, from start to finish.
Album opener and lead single ‘Love is a drug’ is a dark track on which Feehily’s emotive vocals soar above sweeping ’60’s strings, a gospel choir and drum and bass influenced percussion. Evidently influenced by Massive Attack’s ‘Unfinished Symphony’, it’s a compelling opener and one which deserved to fare far better in the charts. Much of the album follows a similar formula. “I wish that life came with instructions”, Feehily croons on ‘Wash The Pain’, a track abundant with synthesisers, slamming percussion and reverberating vocals. ‘Cut You Out’ features moody guitar riffs, brass instruments, fidgety electro samples and rich gospel harmonies whilst ‘Butterfly’ ventures into dance-pop territory and utilises a re-recording of Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’. Considering Mitchell’s lyric ‘Don’t it always seem to go that you don’t know what you’ve got ’till it’s gone’ is perhaps one of the most sampled lines in history, ‘Butterfly’ is hardly innovative. It does contain admirable levels of fervency, however and is one of the album’s stand-out moments.
Elsewhere, the album comes close to entering Westlife territory but is overall avoided through enthralling electronic production and Feehily’s emotive lyrics. ‘Back To Yours’ is a stunning piano ballad on which Feehily gives his best vocal performance yet. It contains a vulnerability and enchantment Westlife could only have dreamed of achieving. ‘Love Me Or Leave Me’ is a driving pop-rock ballad featuring Coldplay-esque piano chords whilst closing track ‘Casablanca’ features tinkling pianos and gorgeous orchestration. As with any album, some familiarity is welcomed and therefore the most Westlife-like track on the album, ‘Only You’ is a tender and welcomed moment. A gorgeous pop-rock ballad comprised of gentle piano chords, soft acoustic guitars and Feehily’s incredible falsetto, it enables the album to breathe after the intensity of the darker material present.
The album’s only flaw is that it desperately lacks one or two tracks of a lighter tone. Whilst there are more up-tempo tracks featured, at times the intensity is in danger of becoming overbearing. Nevertheless, the personal nature of the album gives it consistency – a necessity on all of the best albums.
An audacious and personal album abundant with emotion.
‘Fire’ is out now on Harmoney Entertainment records.