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Deeper into (West)life

The quartet from Ireland is back with a more mature sound, as proven in its new album (below)

MANILA, Philippines -They’re baaack! And they’re as excited as wide-eyed children on Christmas Eve.

You can’t blame Nicky Byrne, Kian Egan, Mark Feehily and Shane Filan of Westlife. It’s been two years since they’ve released an album and a year since they’ve sung their way straight into fans’ hearts.

For a band that has sold over 40 million records and scored nine multi-platinum albums and a record-breaking 14 No. 1 hits, the year off has been forever. And so, a wife and some kids after, the foursome can’t wait to do what they love to do most again.

They’re no longer teenagers whose idea of an all-time high is meeting the girl of their dreams and winning her. But the ardor to excel, to come up with the best sound they can give, is as strong as ever.

“We’ve grown up a lot and that is seen in our more mature sound in Where We Are, our brand-new album,” says Shane in exclusive phone interview.

The Sony Music CD’s tracklist yields some love songs, yes. But along with these Westlife staples are songs about other things just as important. One of them, the solemn I’ll See You Again, is about losing someone you love and taking comfort in the hope that he will someday see that dear one again.

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You can almost hear Kian weeping over losing his father to brain tumor.

The song, and others about pain, is proof that Westlife has indeed, grown up.

“Our songs these days are a lot broader. They’re not just about happy love. They’re about life. There are sad songs, darker songs,” reveals Shane.

They have left their innocent teen years behind. In its place is an entire range of emotions — deeper, more serious — the offshoot of loving deeply, living fully.

Shane married his pre-Westlife girlfriend and now has two children, with another one coming in January.

“My daughter loves Westlife songs,” the proud father crows. Shane puts his children — aged four and one — to sleep by crooning a Westlife ballad. While he’s staring at their innocent faces, Shane can’t help but think of other faces — that of music lovers he and his bandmates hope to please all over again.

“We just want to make Westlife better,” he relates. “We want to put more tempo into the songs.”

Thus, the track Sound of a Broken Heart reminds you of a rolling keyboard. What About Now is edged with rock. The changes go on and on.

Shane says the winnowing process — from a hundred songs to 20 to 25 in span of six months — was easy.

The band knows what it wants and where it’s going.

“It was easy for us to pick the best of the lot,” explains Shane.

Figures why he and his fellow band members are as upbeat as can be about their comeback album.

“If you listen to the album,” Shane points out, “each song comes on strong, even on the web.”

It follows that he has high hopes for their comeback album.

“I want this album to be successful,” he admits.

Along with this wish comes a promise.

“From now on,” Shane vows, “we’ll do an album every two years.”

The pace is not as fast as the one they had years back, when Westlife released one album after another. But Shane and the rest of the group choose quality over quantity.

This time around, he adds, the band will spend a longer time promoting each album, touring the world to push it furthest and bond with their fans more. This means more countries to visit; more people to reach out to.

The Philippines, of course, will always be part of their itinerary. Shane can’t forget the “amazing”   experience he and his bandmates had the first time they held a concert in the country nine years ago.

“We couldn’t believe the reception we got from fans, the hotel, the police! Everyone looked after us,” Shane recalls the first time he and the rest of Westlife set foot on Philippine soil. “As much as 10,000 people were there.”

Those memories still fresh in his mind, Shane hopes to “travel back to Asia and the Philippines next year.”

Local bands that want to do a Westlife — last for more than a decade in the business that is, can take another cue from Shane.

“Work hard. Don’t think about your success too much,” he counsels aspiring bands. “When you have a manager, listen to him. Don’t become your own manager. And listen to your recording company. Sometimes, you may not agree with them. But they know how to sell records. They know what it takes.”

As Westlife continues to show, this lesson in humility works — all the time.

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