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Feb 15

WESTLIFE – “Fool Again”

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#854, 8th April 2000

westlife fool The fifth and final number one from Westlife’s debut, “Fool Again” is an unhappy ending on every level. For once, the lads don’t realise their mistake in time to turn things round and win back their beloved. In fact – gasp – she’s found someone else, leading to a coda in which the band drop the creamy close harmonies and indulge in unrepentant yowling and breast-beating. It’s an undignified sound, but it’s the only musical distinction in “Fool Again”: otherwise we’re in well-ironed, not actively unpleasant Cheiron ballad territory. The guys are good enough anaesthetists by now that nothing grates, and perhaps if you shifted enough of the blanketing away you’d find a pea of interest in the song. But probably not.

Still though, five number ones off one album: that’s something. Nothing good, but something. For all that a close look at Westlife’s success reveals how much of their record-breaking was down to canny singles placement – and beyond that simply luck – by now they appeared, in public, unstoppable. A band with a colossal fanbase, ready to sweep any challengers away. It would make the ride easier from this point.

Westlife weren’t the only group to pump out singles from their albums – and while five releases isn’t exactly modest, it wasn’t absurd by CD era standards. REM’s much-loved Automatic For The People went one further, and five would have been at the low end of a Michael Jackson album campaign. Of course it’s the sustained success that’s remarkable – and that it was sustained by such ferocious focus on a target market. But you could – as “Go Let It Out” made clear – have said the same as Oasis. Westlife weren’t even loathesome: small girls and their mums are never well-respected by vocal fans of other music, so the group caught hate to a degree their competent music didn’t honestly deserve. It was awfully boring – “Fool Again” no exception – but it rarely imposed itself longer than a week.

Still, a wider unease lay behind the groans at Westlife’s success – a sense that Westlife and Oasis and assorted trance hits might be part of the same problem: a pop culture whose connective tissue had atrophied, islands of fans with nothing useful to say to one another. Was that new? Perhaps not, but the giddy pace of the charts made it more acute. I don’t totally agree with that gloomy diagnosis: behind the scenes, the turnover of number ones in 2000 is mostly a function of labels gaming the chart system. But records like “Fool Again” remind me that sometimes the chart was also just what it looked like, an unmixed salad of records that treat fans as bank machines and either can’t keep a grip on a wider audience or never cared to in the first place.

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Comments

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  1. 1
    glue_factory on 23 Feb 2015 #

    We haven’t even got off the first album yet?

  2. 2
    Mark G on 23 Feb 2015 #

    Mah na ma nah

    dum dum de tum tum…

  3. 3
    Tom on 23 Feb 2015 #

    Just seen the “2000 remix” on the sleeve – oh come on. Even they’re ashamed of it.

  4. 4
    flahr on 23 Feb 2015 #

    I have a vague sensation that mixed slightly differently this could be a modern-day X Factor winner’s single. Plus ça change. [3zzzzzzzz]

  5. 5
    thefatgit on 23 Feb 2015 #

    Umm…nope, I got nothing. Hey, is that video set in Mexico City? (1)

  6. 6
    wichitalineman on 23 Feb 2015 #

    I’ve somehow ended up with the original and the “2000 remix” in my itunes. Oh good!

    The non-remix is notably different, it has none of that mild percolating synth stuff, or the echo on the vocal, or the Irish pipes. It also includes a dramatic slow down around 2.55 for “I guess… it’s… ohhh… ve-er-err”… big pause… EastEnders drums… key change into final chorus. In fact, it’s much less creamy, punchier, and quite enjoyable in a 1975 Osmonds sort of way. Really not bad at all. I’d stretch to a 5. (For detractors, the album version is also 30 seconds shorter).

    The “problem” with these Westlife singles, which I don’t have with most of the one-off trance hits or Oasis long-tail number ones (at least not so far) is that I don’t remember them, not at all, and I’m guessing I’m not alone in blanking on them. I must have heard them a fair bit, especially as I was a Radio 2 Breakfast Show listener at this point. But I don’t even remember the title of Fool Again, let alone the song. It isn’t that they sound too similar (again, at least not yet!). Is it the lack of any jarring qualities? No surprise features? So, effectively, no lasting hook? I dunno. Fool Again sounds melodic and catchy enough fifteen years on, so I’m at a bit of a loss.

  7. 7
    Tom on 23 Feb 2015 #

    I wonder if I’ve reviewed the wrong one!

  8. 8
    Mark G on 23 Feb 2015 #

    WIPE PAGE, RESTART!

    see if anyone notices.

  9. 9
    lonepilgrim on 23 Feb 2015 #

    was Westlife’s success due purely to a hardcore of fans primed to buy the single at a key time? The UK Charts and Number Ones of previous decades had reflected the tastes of a broad range of consumers from teens, through 20 somethings and beyond to grandparents buying singles for their grandkids (and vice versa). That broad audience seems to have gone elsewhere in the late 90s (and/or the differences to have blurred). Westlife’s success may in part be due to wooing some of that audience back. Admittedly though perhaps by the fifth single (presumably with exclusive b-sides or whatever) it may have mostly been the hardcore fans buying this.
    Just as I still hold a grudge against Englebert Humperdinck and Rod Stewart for (respectively) keeping Strawberry Fields and God Save the Queen off the top spot I imagine there are those who rail against Westlife for preventing their indieband of choice from their deserved success. For someone who wasn’t invested in the charts at this time I couldn’t care less and find this song (and the predecessors) perfectly pleasant if pretty forgettable. For someone brought up on the thin gruel of the Brotherhood of Man, etc. this seems a little better presented if no more nutritious.

  10. 10
    mapman132 on 23 Feb 2015 #

    Spanish colonial architecture, skyscrapers in the background, North American-style license plates – I guessed Mexico City even before seeing the big ol’ flag in the center of the plaza. Interesting choice of filming location.

    Oh wait, there’s a song here? 3/10, I guess.

  11. 11
    wichitalineman on 23 Feb 2015 #

    Re 7: Well, the pipes on the single intro are the giveaway! I don’t think your review would have ended up that different, to be honest. One sounds like a demo of the other; all your points are valid for both versions.

    (an hour after hearing it three times in a row, I’ve forgotten how it goes)

    Re 9: The “primed” and “hardcore” fans seemed to be relatively few in number according to statisticians on previous Westlife Popular entries – it seems, at this point, they were extremely fortunate to have scored five out of five number ones. Someone on the Never Be The Same Again thread also suggested that Mel and Left Eye were ahead in the midweeks at one point, within an ace of cutting short Westlife’s run of consecutive number ones.

    The record we should be talking about is the new entry at number three, Destiny’s Child’s 10 out of 10 Say My Name. Also new to the Top 10 at no.6, See Ya by Atomic Kitten.

  12. 12
    JoeWiz on 23 Feb 2015 #

    I think they did this in TFI Friday. I could be wrong. But I’m pretty sure they did.
    Just think about that for a moment.
    Easily the weakest of the singles from album 1, it’s lightness manages to offend in its sheer nothingness.
    Can we move on please?

  13. 13
    AMZ1981 on 23 Feb 2015 #

    The expectation was indeed that Melanie C and Left Eye would just nudge it (in an earlier Westlife discussion somebody noted an instance when a rival record was held back by distribution problem and this may well have been it). Had the previous number one held on it would have reported as a sensation; Westlife kept off number one for the first time.

    Only it wouldn’t have been. Westlife would have been undone by their clever (or lucky) marketing strategy where their string of relatively modest selling chart toppers made them look bigger than they were. Fool Again was a stop gap single in lieiu of new product and missing the top or indeed the top three wouldn’t have been a disgrace. However for better or worse they prevailed, they made it five number ones from five with one more to go before they equalled the Spice Girls record of six. Mel C must have been slightly irritated about that under the circumstances – bunnying but we’ll see another chart clash between her and Westlife later in the year which culminated in an album head to head. Adding to the fun Mel C, buoyed by the brief peak of her solo career, chose to be very vocal about Westlife’s shortcomings.

  14. 14
    onehitwanderer on 23 Feb 2015 #

    I do recall there being something very iffy about this sneaking the number 1 spot, with it being behind Mel B in all the midweek updates, if I recall correctly. Then inexplicably nabbing top spot at the death. Especially as it plummeted to 8 the following week. Almost as if there were mysterious forces at work behind the scenes to ensure it kept their number 1 streak going?!

    Perhaps the aforementioned appearance on TFI Friday offers an explanation if true. Anyone know what the winning margin was in the end?

  15. 15
    wichitalineman on 23 Feb 2015 #

    “A useless bunch of talentless tossers” and “hyped up shit” – so said Mel.

  16. 16
    AMZ1981 on 23 Feb 2015 #

    In context it did drop to eight the following week but Mel C dropped to seven and we’ll come to the record breaking six new entries shortly.

  17. 17
    weej on 23 Feb 2015 #

    “There’s an old saying in Tennessee – I know it’s in Texas, probably in Tennessee – that says, fool me once, shame on – shame on you. Fool me – you can’t get fooled again. ”

    1.

  18. 18
    Cumbrian on 23 Feb 2015 #

    I prefer cranachan – the oatmeal and the whiskey play off the fruit and cream delightfully – though I’ve not had one to surpass my dear departed Granny’s recipe. Remove the textural and alcoholic highlights though and I too would be left to say “oh no, not Fool Again”.

  19. 19
    Tom on 23 Feb 2015 #

    #17 I should have gone with the one liner “Meet the new Westlife. Same as the old Westlife.” review really.

  20. 20
    AMZ1981 on 23 Feb 2015 #

    #15 which I suspect had the effect of swinging people over to Westlife’s side, not least because if anybody had said something similar about the Spices they’d have been pulled up for sexism. I personally disliked Mel C intensely (still do tbh) and this has always prejudiced me against her music. She could have criticised Westlife’s anodyne music – she would hardly have been the only one – without resorting to personal comments.

    That said, I remember suggestions at the time that Westlife could be a bit obnoxious, probably because despite the po faced balladry they were five young lads enjoying the high life so maybe they gave Mel C a reason to dislike them. As an aside I remember reading a report that Louis Walsh had to tell Westlife off about their backstage antics and succeeded in reducing them to tears.

  21. 21
    Tommy Mack on 23 Feb 2015 #

    “the group caught hate to a degree their competent music didn’t honestly deserve” – Can’t agree with this. This isn’t a local business awards, it’s pop music: competence surely isn’t a virtue in and of itself if it isn’t in service to something of interest. Being boring is the greatest, perhaps the only crime pop music can commit. And ‘only hung around for a week or so’ doesn’t wash when it was every other week!

    To be fair to Westlife, they were no more boring than much of what Oasis and The Manics were producing around this time, which aggrieved me far more: I disliked Westlife like I disliked trudging through light rain, hearing Tolerate or D’you Know What I Mean for the first time was like biting into a doughnut and finding a turd inside (which I think is unfair on both counts now but that’s how it felt at the time)

    Westlife autocorrects to Westhide. WTF is Westhide?

  22. 22
    Tom on 23 Feb 2015 #

    #21 That’s what I mean, really. They were a slightly better version of Boyzone, who turned up at a time when a lot of British music was stuck in a gruesome rut – the arse-end of Dadrock, and the even drabber follow-ups to Dadrock. All I mean is that they were treated as something uniquely awful, straight 1s not straight 3s: hindsight suggests this is a little unfair. Boredom is a fair charge: but to say pop’s only crime is boredom is to shrug off the historic massive success of hymnal slowies among the UK pop audience. Pop is quite happy to be boring and pious when it suits.

  23. 23
    wichitalineman on 24 Feb 2015 #

    I’m guessing Tommy means Westlife were “boring” as in predictability and stasis, not just the pace of their singles. Their lengthy reign, with no apparent progression from one record to the next, seemed to defy pop logic. I’ve been surprised, with a decade and a half’s distance, that they don’t make me clench my fists. I might feel differently further down the track.

  24. 24
    AMZ1981 on 24 Feb 2015 #

    It’s a matter of opinion of course but I’ve always considered Boyzone to be superior to Westlife. Boyzone’s output probably hasn’t aged quite as well but the best (okay and worst) thing about them were the vocal stylings of Keating and Gately – they may have been an acquired taste to say the least but at least it was distinctive. Also Boyzone were prepared to take the occasional gamble even if it normally went horribly wrong.

    My frustration with Westlife at the time was that they had a lot of collective vocal ability and could have done something quite stunning with the right song; they get a bit better than the verse chorus verse chorus of the first album. Boyzone, by contrast, did at least manage to make a little go a long way.

  25. 25
    Kinitawowi on 24 Feb 2015 #

    Tom, I’m quite impressed by how fluidly you managed to spin “I have literally nothing to say about this record” into four paragraphs.

    I have nothing else to say about this.

    2.

  26. 26
    Tommy Mack on 24 Feb 2015 #

    #22 Hymnal slowies are only boring if they don’t move you emotionally or please you sonically (lush bed of harmonies etc).

    #23: A bit of both really, I find their songs boring as stand alone singles. Contemplated as a complete body of work it’s almost unimaginable. I don’t imagine I’m alone in thinking that.

    I don’t find stasis stultifying in and of itself. I laughed out loud when I heard AC/DC’s last single. Let’s say it was not dissimilar to Back in Black: thoroughly enjoyable (if you like AC/DC) but I can’t see why anyone who owns Back in Black would buy it.

    Clearly though, millions of people didn’t think Westlife were at all boring which leads us back to another of your points, do the Westlife fans and haters have anything to say to each other? If we do, I can’t think of it and I find that enormously depressing.

    PS: Westlife as better Boyzone: I think I’d rather hear BZ’s cover of Love Me For A Reason than anything by Westlife.

  27. 27
    Izzy on 24 Feb 2015 #

    21: Westhide is a village and civil parish in Herefordshire, England, 9 km north east of Hereford. The parish had a population of 79 in the 2001 UK Census and is grouped with Preston Wynne and Withington to form Withington Group Parish Council for administrative purposes.

    The parish church is dedicated to St Bartholomew and has a large but short 12th-century tower. In the churchyard are the remains of a medieval preaching cross now topped by an 18th-century sundial.

    The course of the Herefordshire and Gloucestershire Canal runs just north of the village.

    More information is to be found on the Group Parish’s website http://www.withingtongroupparishes.co.uk

  28. 28
    katstevens on 24 Feb 2015 #

    Here’s my 2p on Fool Again, which is mostly me ripping into the video. Out of all the Loife songs I’ve covered so far I think it’s actually my favourite. They sound amused and unbothered at having been ‘fooled’ yet again, shrugging it off as if they’d waited ages for a bus then three came along at once.

  29. 29
    chelovek na lune on 24 Feb 2015 #

    “I thought it would never end. What did I know?”

    Really this is a load of syruppy self-pitying old toss, to use the technical term. It’s not even sufficiently substantial to be actively dislikable, or particularly identifiable at all. 3

    (My take on BZ vs WL in brief: WL more polished, and probably more proficient. but less versatile. BZ more adventurous, and thus, at their best, rather more interesting)

  30. 30
    James BC on 24 Feb 2015 #

    The Boyzone/Westlife comparison can only end in insanity. Samantha Mumba’s launch must have been in the works by the time this hit number 1 and she was by far the best Walsh-managed act of the period.

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