Album: Union J – “Union J” (2013)

Before I skip the country, I should really review a bunch of albums I’ve had sitting on my iPod for ages – I suppose none of them particularly excited me, but none of them are bad, and Eurovision got in the way (and it will again). But having listening to them on the big journeys this weekend, I think it’s time.

union j albumSo, Union J. Where do they fit in these days? I suppose they’d been pushed in the hope that One Direction-sized success might appear, coming from similar roots. The band auditioned as three-piece “Triple J” (Josh, JJ & Jaymi), while fourth member George auditioned as a solo singer. Both acts got through the auditions but failed at Judges’ Houses.  After another group were removed from the contest, they were invited to continue as a four-piece, and ultimately came 4th in the series.

I have a soft spot for them, perhaps in the same way as I did for The Wanted; there is the excitement of what they might bring out in the future, after this initial ‘safe’ boyband album prepares the ground. They seem like thoroughly likeable guys, and not yet the overstyled messes of One Direction. Sales-wise it’s not quite working out yet but they’ve got a second album on the way, hopefully benefitting from The Wanted’s departure. But what about this album? A slim 35 minutes and 10 tracks makes it hard to get bored, and I enjoyed it more than I expected after my first listen.

09 Carry you – The lead single, and I still rather love it after 6 months. Pulsing synths and a gentle rhythm, with an instantly catchy chorus. They even all get a turn at singing, that’s sort of rare isn’t it? The big criticism though is that middle-eight, did they run out time writing it? It’s just the chorus with the words replaced with “Yeah yeah yeah”. A bit repetitive but this is still a solid pop debut.

07 Beautiful life – I knew this was a single, never realised it hit the top 10! We’re going for acoustic pop now, good to diversify even if it’s not what I’d prefer to hear. A bit Westlife, nothing too offensive about it, it’s just a bit weedy. The focus on the vocals does show up a few shortcomings but the last minute or so has a lot more life to it.

09 Loving you is easy – Apparently the third single, wonder when that’s coming. Back to synth-driven uptempo pop now, and all the better for it. Was this a Wanted leftover? It’s a little basic but more energetic than “Carry you”. The onslaught of falsetto is a little hard to take in such large quantities but handled well. A great single, I can imagine this being a hit, this is solid boyband territory.

08 Last goodbye – On first glance it doesn’t seem like this album is varying too much but these four openers all have their own identities. This definitely has the whiff of “The Wanted” too, more of a lighters-up midtempo. The melody is a bit simple but they’ve nailed the production to give it a bit of oomph. That chorus is good, and those occasional moments of high falsetto are a bit of a WTF moment, but not really a foot wrong.

08 Beethoven – This is why boybands are great, some ludicrous lyrical ideas are fielded in the name of love. “I’ll play you like an instrument, let me be your Beethoven”, what?! How romantic! But the harmonies are tight and the bridge is perhaps the best bit, with lines like “move my heart like a metronome”. A bit of an experiment and it sort of pays off, nothing earthshaking but it’s a fun pop song.

09 Head in the clouds – Perhaps a track-by-track is too indepth an analysis of an album like this. It’s just nice pop music that feels like it’s been assembled from tracks not used by bigger acts. This is a lot of fun though, the stream-of-consciousness verses, the singalong bridges & chorus. They can’t say “bitch” or “shit” then, huh? There are lyrical blindspots (“like wow, wow”), and it sounds like an Olly Murs track, but I really like this.

08 Where are you now – What does this remind me of? Probably The Wanted again. Good job I love those guys too. Lots of energy with some simmering synth verses, bursting into a big boyband chorus. If anything it’s so competently handled that I don’t feel there’s much to say about it – if this is the standard of their album fillers, then that bodes will for the quality they might get as they move up the ranks.

07 Save the last dance – Maybe I’m starting to lose interest by this point, but this nudges the line of becoming a generic boyband dance track – definitely a Wanted track I think. Nothing really to criticise again, I like the synthy production and the standard issue lyrics about getting with someone at a party. Competently done, but lacking the killer hook to take it over the top.

07 Amaze me – Not wanting to ruin the flow of the album presumably, two ballads close off the album. This has a nice waltzy music box rhythm, and it plays the part of your typical boyband ballad, it’s just not really that exciting. I guess it’s just an acquired taste, or maybe I acquired it in about 1998 and have got a bit bored of it. Nice enough for what it is, but it doesn’t amaze me.

07 Skyscraper – This song has been kicking around for a while, Simon Cowell was evidently keen to break it in the UK after Demi Lovato’s success in the US with it, even though it did make No.7 here (higher than the US!). It was pitched as Union J’s X-Factor winners single, and ultimately was used when Sam Bailey won last year (taking it to No.1). I haven’t quite clicked with the song though, it’s decent and the inspirational lyrics aren’t too cloying, but the tempo is just a bit too leaden. I think this would be the case for me whoever sang it.

Well that wasn’t too bad at all – it does end up a little generic in places, I think perhaps their prospects at the time weren’t worth more to the label to spring for a big-named writer. That’s fair enough, and this album tests the ground for their potential – with The Wanted and JLS out of the picture, there’s a space for a decent boyband, I hope it’s them.

Keepers for the iPod: Carry you, Beautiful life, Loving you is easy, Head in the clouds, Where are you now

 

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