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Aug 19

WESTLIFE – “Unbreakable”

Popular15 comments • 969 views

#941, 16th November 2002

They’re perhaps not intended to be, but Greatest Hits albums are often a sign of a band’s waning vitality, a signal to the fans that the group are moving to an autumnal phase, inviting listeners to tread their way through former hits like fallen leaves. The odd new track can’t truly hide the marks of age. “Unbreakable” is not an odd new track, in fact it’s relentlessly plain, an acoustic-led plod through the Westlife formula which does the things you’d expect in the places you’re expecting them. It’s unmistakable, indeed.

The video is a curious thing, casting the track as a tragic ballad, with a car crash, and a young woman receiving the news of her lover’s demise, precisely as the key change comes in. It’s probably no more than a director’s doomed attempt to find something interesting to do with the song, but I’d like to believe it’s a collective cry for help from the lads, too, trapped on their power ballad hamster wheel. Though if Westlife are harbouring a hidden lust for dissolution, a secret death-drive urge to end this awful, relentless tedium, “Unbreakable” the song hides it abominably well.

2

Comments

  1. 1
    glue_factory on 31 Aug 2019 #

    Power Ballad Hamster Wheel, tonight at the Dublin Castle. £5, £4 concessions

  2. 2
    Shiny Dave, logged out on 31 Aug 2019 #

    Is this the autumnal phase of Westlife? Well, it is in Popular terms: we’ve already seen their last number one dated anything other than November (though one of them actually hit the top in October), every one of their three remaining bunnies is the lead-off single from an album aimed nakedly at the unimaginative-festive-gift market. (It’s a good ploy, to be fair. Probably fell for it at the time myself, before I went to university and started cratedigging at the campus market, putting together CD mixtapes of the proceeds as my secondary presents to (grand)parents for years afterwards. Simon Cowell is a bad man with a good business brain, part the billionth.) And the sleeve shows another hint: that’s a new “Westlife” wordmark in an achingly trad small-caps serif, replacing the rounded no-caps wordmark they’d rolled with before, and they’d keep it for most of the 00s. (Ish. They dropped it temporarily for the full retro-sleeve effect on their big band album “Allow Us To Be Frank,” a blatant Robbie-matching move up to and including the presence of a punny title that’s more entertaining than the album itself.)

    As I think I’ve said before, I like and play most Westlife far more than I should – its very beigeness does that, certainly the pillowy-soft symphonic trimmings, maybe even the infamous non-harmonies. They exist in my Spotify playlists for exactly one reason, and that reason is as switch-off music for an overstimulating world. “Unbreakable” adds exactly one wrinkle to the formula; it’s in 12/8.

    And with that one wrinkle it becomes my favourite song from a group I’m frankly ashamed to have a favourite song from. There is something inexplicably pleasing to my ear about a gentle 12/8 quasi-waltz – maybe the sense of being simultaneously slow and with plenty of momentum because each slow beat is clearly divided into three? – and I’ve got a (too-small!) playlist of such songs.

    So it’s a song I appreciate well beyond its quality, and I’ll give it a 5, which I hope and expect is as high as anyone will go for this. But if an early-2000s ballad in 12/8 had to be a number one, surely it should have been Alicia Keys breakout “Fallin'” instead?

    At least when the Spices did the 12/8 wintry ballad (“Too Much”) they made it interesting. And now I am listening to that instead.

  3. 3
    Lee Saunders on 31 Aug 2019 #

    The only thing I was ever going to discuss was the logo. Gone is the slick, Y2K modern-looking logo with its small caps and awkward spacing, and in comes a stately serif in upper case. And look at the band in suits on the accompanying greatest hits cover. Whatever teen audience they might have appealed to before they are now leaving behind. Westlife are grown-ups making music for grown-ups.

    The song? Actually very possibly the worst WL number one, though I’d be lying if most of the others hadn’t disappeared from my memory. 1.

  4. 4
    weej on 31 Aug 2019 #

    The title “Unbreakable” sounds like a threat, or a challenge. The song, I cannot muster up the energy to comment on. 1.

    I had to leave an event I organised this summer because some Chinese teenagers were singing Westlife’s version of Seasons In The Sun at karaoke. Cannot be escaped.

  5. 5
    ThePensmith on 1 Sep 2019 #

    Well well well. Who’d have thought current events would have occurred when there was last a Westlife entry to discuss on here? I have to confess since their comeback, which for all we know could well produce a future bunny yet, their new album ‘Spectrum’ is out in – quelle surprise – November, I’ve made an effort to revisit their back catalogue as I actually quite like the unbunnied 2019 singles they’ve had out so far. The 10 year old me of 20 years ago would probably be horrified to find I’ve given a lot of their early singles a positive reappraisal mind. Maybe I’m showing my age a bit. ‘Unbreakable’ is not one of them, for many of the same reasons you give Tom, but I’m tempted to go back and leave my thoughts on some of the ones you’ve already covered, particularly the ones where Swedish songwriting teams were involved.

    Speaking with 2002 eyes on, this being from a greatest hits did lead to the false sense of security that things were wrapping up and thus many like 14 year old me of then were sighing with relief waiting for the inevitable to happen on Boxing Day a la Steps a year previously. Alas that came and went and twas not to be – for another eight years at least. 1 or 2 is about accurate I think.

    Two far more exciting new entries further down that week’s top 10: Missy Elliott new in at #6 with ‘Work It’ (the first single off her ‘Under Construction’ album, and still one of her best for me), and Dannii Minogue in at #7 with the equally saucy and rather brilliant ‘Put the Needle On It’, the second single from her ‘Neon Nights’ album (which I acquired on vinyl for its 15th anniversary reissue last year). We came perilously close to discussing its follow up five months later, but between this and her guest vocal on Riva’s ‘Who Do You Love Now’ almost a year previously it was a marked upturn in fortunes for her.

  6. 6
    Alex Spacey on 1 Sep 2019 #

    I have no recollection of ever hearing this at the time. After listening to it, I’m not particularly surprised. I can’t say that I’m a fan of Westlife but this one’s even more unmemorable than their other number ones.

    3 at most, although I think even that’s pushing it.

  7. 7
    AMZ1981 on 1 Sep 2019 #

    For those old enough to remember Teletext a Westlife chart topper in Popular is a bit like one of those advert or header pages that kept coming up endlessly in the loop.

    The most interesting thing about Unbreakable is how uninteresting it is, but is worth commenting on how Westlife operated compared to their peers. Take That, truth be told, were all limited talents but they made that little go a huge way. Boyzone at least had a unique selling point of two singers with distinctive and irritating voices. With Westlife you just had sameness and yet they had four singers who could actually sing. They could have done pieces with four part harmonies, complex arrangements etc and done it without upsetting their fanbase. For whatever they chose not to.

    It’s also interesting that by the time most pop groups get to the stage they can put out a Greatest Hits they’re normally straining at the leash to do something a bit different. I suppose Westlife differed in that they didn’t have an obvious frontman so nobody in their ranks was pushing for a solo career. But ultimately you’re left with the impression that Westlife rather enjoyed being Westlife.

  8. 8
    Andrew Farrell on 1 Sep 2019 #

    I think the specific look of the logo is Westlife: The Hotel.

    (PS the login button is acting up again)

  9. 9
    ThePensmith on 1 Sep 2019 #

    #7 – that’s an interesting observation now you mention it. I tested out your theory on a random TV performance of theirs from around the time of this single on YouTube and you’re right. There isn’t a Robbie or a Geri waiting to break ranks. And even when Bri(y)an eventually did leave 18 months later, it was under the pretext of wanting to be a dad more. What he ended up doing was splitting with Kerry Katona and by his own admission playing golf a lot (we’ll discuss his solo bunny when the time comes).

  10. 10
    hardtogethits on 1 Sep 2019 #

    Ken Bruce, back announcing this (IIRC): “That was Unbearable, and it was by Westlife”. Agree. I’m signing in or whatever just to score it 1.

    I’ve felt a bit alienated by Popular lately. The timing of the new model couldn’t have been worse for me because of a run of chart toppers I really didn’t like. I bought this and Just Like A Pill on CD single because I couldn’t come to terms without not knowing them and they went ‘uncompiled’. I didn’t like Dilemma at all – when I read any analysis or insight into Dilemma and its quality or influence or backstory or whatever (here or anywhere), I feel a mixture of apathy and resentment. It’s not a good feeling, although I suggest it’s better for one’s mental health than pretending to enjoy it! Happy day!

  11. 11
    Ben on 2 Sep 2019 #

    When this came out it struck me as a rip-off of R. Kelly’s If I Could Turn Back The Hands Of Time – both the song, and the video.

  12. 12
    Mark G on 3 Sep 2019 #

    There should be a rating in percentage terms of “likelihood of the artist buying or enjoying the music they have made if it was by someone other than themselves, other than for ‘professional’ reasons”

    So, 2%

  13. 13
    Tommy Mack on 3 Sep 2019 #

    #12 I dunno, I reckon if Westlife listened to any music, it was Westlife!

    [Cue reposted photo of Bryan McFadden clutching obviously worn-out copy of Metal Box]

  14. 14
    Ed on 7 Sep 2019 #

    I wonder how far the song and video were inspired by the M. Night Shyamalan movie of the same name, which came out a couple of years earlier. There are a few shots in the video that show some stylistic similarity.

    I have to say they missed a trick by not having a twist ending, though. It would have been a whole lot better if a hand had thrust out through the earth to catch the rose.

  15. 15
    Ed on 7 Sep 2019 #

    … or if it turned out that his girlfriend had cut his brake lines.

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