“My Love” is Westlife in their pomp – a seventh straight number one, leaving records trailing. They were as popular as they’d ever been, which is to say, not as popular as you might think: a steady fanbase of a hundred thousand or so first week fans, but nothing in the way of crossover. Still, they sounded monolithic enough. “My Love” starts intriguingly hesitant, as if it wants to be their “Knowing Me Knowing You” – “I’m all alone, the rooms are getting smaller” (Imagine Westlife, trapped in a malfunctioning TARDIS.) Of course, that doesn’t last, and the windswept chorus of “My Love” – a de facto title track for their second album, Coast To Coast – is them at their most banner-waving. It’s confident and assured, big-chested – they know what they’re about by now, these boys. Cheiron – the jobbing end of Cheiron – are back too. A memo is sent out to stakeholders: the Westlife enterprise has considered the possibility of changing its business model for the second record, and politely rejected the proposal.
Still, change has a way of creeping up on you. The next Westlife single is the first I don’t have to write about – no, I haven’t checked what I’m missing – and so “My Love” is the first possible ending for their Imperial Phase. It almost sounds like hubris, even, though ultimately Westlife are too pleasant a thing for that. We’re halfway through. Their first seven number ones spanned eighteen months; their next seven take seventy-two. It’s a long, slow road down. And if you were to leave one Westlife single to future generations, a monument to their stolid, turn-waiting dominance, it might as well be “My Love”. The song has their strengths – they knew how to build a basic, sturdy emotional arc across a track, and how to layer on those thick-set harmonies in support of it. And in its weakness for a smarmy resolution, and its unwillingness to push its opening feelings, it has their failure to build on even that mild potential.