Before I had even listened to a single song of theirs, I had a preconceived idea of what The Wanted would sound like-- a JLS ripoff, a male version of The Saturdays. The buzz regarding their debut single All Time Low swelled up, and when I finally caved in, every single notion I'd assumed about the band vanished.
Their eponymously-titled debut album is still 'boyband pop', essentially speaking. The Wanted established a certain maturity in All Time Low-- something we don't often see in pop groups, particularly new ones-- and the album is keen on reminding us that this boyband isn't 'fluff material'.
With highly commendable people like Steve Mac (Boyzone, JLS, Westlife), Cutfather (Pixie Lott, Blue, Pussycat Dolls), Greg Kurstin (Britney Spears, Lily Allen, Nelly Furtado), and Guy Chambers (Kylie Minogue, Robbie Williams) working behind the scenes, it's clear that they spared no expense in production, resulting in a polished pop record that flows effortlessly from start to finish.
In hindsight, the eponymous album is undoubtedly pop, though little but conspicuos bits of indie, rock, and soul are sprinkled here and there. Epic string sections similar to the ones in All Time Low surface in Behind Bars, a track that would fit Plan B's The Defamation of Strickland Banks if it went pop. Hi and Low, a cover of the Greg Laswell song, sticks to its singer-songwriter genre, and the delicate piano ensemble slows down the pace of the LP.
It's also quite clever how themes are prominently incorporated in some tracks. Let's Get Ugly blatantly situates us in the wild, wild west where two cowboys are getting ready for a square-off. Personal Soldier is pretty obvious as well-- not to mention brilliant. It rivals Replace Your Heart and Heart Vacancy as the "perfect boyband song" i.e. pop enough to pull off 'boyband hand gestures' without being too cheesy.
Ballads-wise, Golden unarguably steals the show. The subtle verses are succeeded by a bold chorus that builds up emotion for one dramatic release at the end-- pure genius. Weakness is a decent example of songs that don't need exploding choruses to hook you in. In the case of Lose My Mind, the bridge pulls you in, along with borrowed "oh"s from Kings of Leon.
The Wanted's eponymous debut is still far from perfect, but it sets them in a niche where both fan-girls and serious music lovers can agree on the fact that it is a genuinely great album that puts on a great balancing act-- not too serious but not annoyingly cheeky; not very experimental but certainly not monotonous. It's a solid attempt that implies that The Wanted aren't going anywhere.