The first Westlife album since 2007's 'Back Home' is an improvement on its predecessor, but only a marginal one. There's a definite sense that the pop balladeers would be twice as awful without the voice of Mark Feehily – something perhaps even they know, as they surely edge closer to retirement…
How do they do it? In a way, Westlife have to be grudgingly admired for their longevity. Surely it's only Menudo who have managed to maintain a similar high profile in pop history – and at that, in Latin America and with a revolving door policy that would make Mark E. Smith look charitable. Over ten years after they were brought together by Louis Walsh, the four-piece still manage to stage and sell out gigs in stadiums like Croke Park.
In that respect, 'Where We Are' could be perceived as a statement of intent for their future plans - an anchor in the seabed of their career. Indeed, recent interviews would suggest that Shane, Mark, Nicky and Kian have begun 'phase two' of their careers with their tenth album in eleven years. In reality, there's no such transformation: these thirteen songs are as maudlin and one-dimensional as any of their recent material. It's baffling why the quartet (or their label) refuse to lift their backsides from their invisible stools and put some oomph and pep into their albums instead of the usual overwrought fodder.
As always, vocals are split between Shane Filan and Mark Feehily, although it's the latter that saves this album from complete inanity. The only member of the group who is able to convincingly convey tenderness, he excels on the understated (for Westlife, that is) 'Talk You Down' and the old school soul-pitted 'As Love is My Witness'. Filan's contributions – particularly on the clunky title track and saccharine 'No More Heroes' are comparatively forced and unapologetically sentimental.
Otherwise, not even a track written by supposedly high-class pop songwriters AJ McLean (of Backstreet Boys) and Ryan Tedder - Shadows - make this album essential, even for lovers of their pedestrian pop. Another one to avoid, then.