This is one of the two Boyzone records I couldn’t well remember. So, it’s not the slow cover version, or the fast cover version. It’s not the one by Andrew Lloyd Webber, or the one which pretends it has something to say. It’s just Boyzone being Boyzone, a third single from a third album, the Irish Model of boybands in smooth working order. There’s exactly one attractive touch on “All That I Need” – a kick of strings on the final chorus, which puts some late vim and momentum behind the record’s shop-worn devotion. That’s not nearly enough to salvage a doughy, laborious track, though. The lyrics? Love song fridge poetry – long winding roads, castles of sand, the air that I breathe, arranged without a first thought.
I could end the review there, but this is also a good place to point out something that is unusual about Boyzone, which will only get more pronounced as it carries over into Westlife and beyond. Most boybands and heartthrobs are very much creatures of their moment – they make a particular effort (or it is made for them) to fit in with pop trends. So the Monkees make zippy beat group pop and psychedelia, the Rollers have an ersatz glam stomp to them, Bros make a warped version of late-80s funk-pop, and Peter Andre produces R&B with the good bits waxed off.
But it seems to me there’s no solid equivalent to Boyzone – no trend they’re trying to follow. Their model was Take That, a group which is now two years gone, and they’ve moved further away from that band’s experiments with disco or swingbeat. Somewhere in this song’s DNA is the Lighthouse Family’s soft-soul, or the big harmony R&B tunes of Boyz II Men, but the Irish boyband sound is becoming more and more its own thing: big, soupy choruses for full, dull voices; mid-paced tunes and well-ironed harmonies, with the arrangement as discreet a scaffold as possible. Between this Boyzone record and the last, though, Sweden’s Cheiron productions have changed the boyband game – “Everybody (Backstreet’s Back)” showing a new pop style, a way for the music to punch harder and add context to the choreography. It’s easy to dismiss Boyzone – let alone their successors – as generic, but even in the boyband context this wasn’t so. They weren’t simply doing a more tedious version of everyone else: their vices and choices are their own.