Monday, January 26, 2004

CD Review: "Go Your Own Way" by Gareth Gates

After the hugely successful debut CD, “What My Heart Wants To Say”, Gareth Gates returns with another crowd pleaser in his follow-up effort entitled “Go Your Own Way”. I saw this CD in the music store during the Chinese New Year holidays while looking for the new Josh Groban CD and immediately decided to buy it as well considering how much I enjoyed his previous work. The 14 track CD comes with a slip that you can send in to get your free VCD bonus disk with 4 of Gate’s music video although you can get the bonus disk pre packaged with the CD outside of Malaysia. This CD version is also different from the 2-disk version that they released in the UK and most of Europe. Several of the songs on the original UK release that were critically panned by the critics there were absent from the Asian market version which leads me to believe that the CD was repackaged after its initial release at the end of 2003. I would be interested in getting my hands on the original UK release to find out why those missing songs were so hated by his fans there.

The majority of the songs on this CD were written and produced by the team that worked on his debut CD as well as for other acts like Westlife, Boyzone and Britney Spears. The continued collaboration between this team and Gareth Gates immediately brings forth comparisons between this CD and his debut album. I have to say that while some songs on this new album carried the same tonal signature of the first album, a sufficient number of these new songs have refreshingly branched out to new and interesting avenues that makes the album a decent evolution in his musical career for this 19 year old artist. Listener to this album not only get to hear a more matured and confident Gareth Gates but also get the opportunity to delve deeper into the person through the words that he penned himself for 3 of the songs on the album.

Like the first album, this CD opens with a heartfelt ballad entitled “Say It Isn’t So” which successfully showcases his wonderful soulful voice. As hook songs goes, this particularly heartbreaking slow tune fills the role of aural appetizer that begins the feast that follows more than adequately. With equal sense of longing and heartache, the beautiful vocals on this track lift this song and leave the listener wanting more which Gareth does not disappoints with the next song, “Skeletons”. In “Skeletons” the tempo is kicked up a notch with mesmerizing backbeats that is reminiscent of something that the Backstreet Boys would be equally comfortable in. I did feel that the intro to this song was a bit on the pedestrian side but it was quickly forgiven once the song starts to build to the catchy chorus that left me humming the song for quite a time.

The momentum of the CD would next be pulled back a bit with the next mid tempo song with the unfortunate title of “Listen To My Heart”. I say unfortunate because the title will always remind me of the Roxette song from my secondary school days. Regardless of the song title, the song is actually quite nice to listen to although the Westlife sound influence was quite evident in the song arrangement. In a refreshing departure from the previous songs, opening salvo of trumpets flare and flow into a hypnotic backbeat that signify the arrival of the next song, “Too Soon To Say Goodbye”. The cute and somewhat cheeky arrangement brought forth a playful mood for this light but enjoyable song.

“Lies” follows next with an intro riff that is fairly familiar to those who have listened to his first album. From the familiar strains of the same opening that “Anyone of Us (Stupid Mistake)” previously had, the song takes on a slightly different route when we reach the chorus. Although the chorus is quite enjoyable onto itself, the similarities to his previous mega hit are too glaring that you can’t help but prefer the previous song over the latter. The same problem also occurs in the song that follows, “Nothing’s Gonna to Stop Us Now”. The song arrangement and tonal signature is so similar to “Lies” that one cannot be faulted to think that they were the same song. I would think that I would be able to enjoy this song more if it came anywhere other than this close to “Lies” as it is actually a good song onto itself.

The next song sounds very much like what bands like “Steps” or “S Club 7” would do for one of their album. “It Happens Every Time” is quite the upbeat tune that should appeal to pre pubescent girls as well as older audience who never outgrew peppy pop songs. I’m feel a bit embarrassed to admit that the song is quite addictive listening and left me humming the tune after a few listens. “All Cried Out” that follows was written by Gareth Gates himself and have the distinction of causing me to pause and ponder the significance of them sampling the popular refrain from the old Human League song, “Human” into this song. Regardless of the strange choice, this song is quite enjoyable to listen to and should go well with his fans.

In “Sunshine”, Gareth ventures into uncharted territory for him by tackling an R&B influenced song. The radio friendly mid tempo song goes down fairly well although at times it seems that he was somehow channeling the voice of a younger George Michael into his performance. His smooth voice does lend itself beautifully to the tune that he does not need to imitate others to carry the song. The next song that follows is titled “Spirit in the Sky” which was recorded for the 2003 Comic Relief Charity event and featured the Kumars of the “The Kumars at No. 42” TV show. Part gospel and part comedic skit on top of the inclusion of sounds of the sitar and Indian style vocalization makes this song a bit weird to say the least. I guess that this is one of the “you need to be there to appreciate it” type of song which when taken out of the context it was performed in is not easy to understand.

In another song written by Gareth himself, “Groove With Me”, we find the invisible presence of George Michael very much present in this attempt to sex up the album. While the effort was somewhat commendable, I don’t think that Gareth has the years or the maturity to pull off this type of song and lyrics in a believable manner. For now, he does not have the right stuff and attitude to make this song work. I also found that the next song that followed, “Absolutely”, eerily reminded me of early Wham! songs to complete the George Michael imitation portion of this CD. Having 2 songs back to back that sounds so much alike was an unnecessary distraction from me enjoying the songs for their own merits.

The last song penned by the artist himself on this album was the head bopping piece titled “Club Hoppin’”. I have to say that the song opens with a somewhat boring intro riff but fortunately for us the excitement kicks up as we approach the chorus. Once into the groove, listeners will find themselves in an amusing and foot-tapping tune that would surely be coming to a dance floor near you in the near future. From the abrupt end of the head bopping song, the album closes with a mid tempo sensual song. The song “Soul Affection” is another attempt at R&B influenced melodies which I found to work better that the previous attempt in this same album. The song allows the listener to savor Gareth’s wonderful vocals one last time before winding down a satisfying finish.

For an album that boldly declares in the album title its intentions of moving away from the shadows of its successful predecessor, I have to say that there is still much work to be done here. The variety of song styles that exist in this album goes to show that Gareth is still looking for his niche to excel while not moving too far away from the style of his debut album that put him on the map in the first place. There were a few missed opportunities for development in this album considering the potential that Gareth shown in his debut CD. Although this follow up effort is an accomplished product onto itself, one could not help but feel that more could be done. Hopefully this potential gets more attention in his next outing.

Rating: 3.5/5

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