Oh yes they're back. It has been over 18 months since the last Westlife single Obvious. In the intervening period, they have lost nominal lead singer Brian/Bryan McFadden to a solo career and done, well, nothing at all actually. It was a safe assumption to make that they had all but given up for good. After all the Irish harmonisers had had five years at the top, notched up a staggering string of Number One hits, made a great deal of money and really it seems had very little else left to prove. How wrong we were. With almost tedious predictability You Raise Me Up gives Westlife the best possible comeback, charging straight into the chart to give them yet another Number One single.
For those that bored of Westlife's act some time ago, the fact that they can still do this is actually slightly worrying. After all, in theory, their core audience should have drifted away a long time ago. The 14-year-olds who first screamed for them in 1999 will now be 20 and far too old for boy bands. The sizable gay following they always had have grown tired of waiting and moved on to other idols - so who is left? The answer I suspect is the housewife contingent who are responsible for maintaining Ronan Keating's hit-making career over a decade on from his own musical debut. The result is a 13th Number One hit single for Westlife (including their 2000 duet with Mariah Carey), one that moves them ever closer to Cliff's total of 14 and third place in the all-time table.
Of course, it wouldn't be a modern day Westlife single without there being just a little bit of sniping. Like many songs recorded by Louis Walsh charges, You Raise Me Up has a history that goes back further than you may think. Eurovision winning duo Secret Garden penned the track way back in 2001 and came close to becoming a US hit in 2004 when Josh Groban recorded a version. Since then the track has appeared on albums by the likes of Aled Jones, Daniel O'Donnell and Russell Watson and perhaps more controversially has been sung by Louis Walsh-backed contestants on the current X Factor TV series. Such synergy is actually nothing new - the fact that Westlife's last Number One single Mandy was released within weeks of Pop Idol contestants performing it back in 2003 is almost certainly no coincidence.
OK let us not be too churlish. As ever the single is masterfully performed, yanks at your heartstrings and has been put at the top of the charts thanks to a masterpiece of marketing. The fact that Westlife's formula still appears to work though is rather depressing. I've been saying the same thing for six years - essentially Westlife only have one song. It is a good song and five or six years ago sounded great. In 2005 it is now getting a little tedious - but while it still works commercially do they really have any reason to stop?
Honours for the second biggest new hit of the week go to a record which for sentimental reasons many were hoping would be at the very top of the charts. It has been 12 years since the last Kate Bush album. Most singles buyers will have been in nappies or not even born when she last had product in the shops and as a result, the attention lavished on new single King Of The Mountain may seem a little baffling.
So let's sketch in the details. Kate Bush is to say the least an enigmatic genius. Discovered whilst barely out of school in the 1970s her talent was such that EMI records actually paid for her to do nothing for two years - or at least to go away and learn her craft professionally, knowing that at the end their investment was going to pay off big time. So it did with a string of classic singles crammed with literary allusions and hidden depths. Oft-parodied but somehow never diminished singles such as Wuthering Heights, The Man With The Child In His Eyes and Babooshka became her trademarks. In 1982 she looked to have lost her touch. Fourth album The Dreaming was rubbish and the hits dried up. So she went away, worked out where she had gone wrong and made a triumphant comeback three years later with the Hounds Of Love album and another classic single in the shape of Running Up That Hill.
Hence the fuss. Over the course of 20 years many people have grown up in love with her, enchanted by her and willing to forgive her all her foibles (such as touring once in the 1970s, hating it and never doing it again, taking years to record albums and yes, writing songs about obscure books that nobody has read) and hail each new album as the second coming. Such was the fuss surrounding her last album (1993s The Red Shoes) and such is the anticipation that has made her 21st-century return such a big deal.
I can't give you an impartial analysis of King Of The Mountain as I'm one of those people who finds her work by and large annoying and whiny and who find little inspiration in it other than the urge to shake her and ask her to sing properly for once. Suffice it to say that a 12-year break and motherhood appear not to have dulled her musical edge. Part of the reason people are so excited is that as far as her fans are concerned King Of The Mountain is every bit as good as they wanted it to be. Better yet the charts have treated her kindly and the single instantly becomes her first Top 10 single for 19 years and her biggest single that celebrated 1985 come back Running Up That Hill hit Number 3. It is actually only the seventh Top 10 hit of her career, her only Number One being, of course, her 1978 debut with Wuthering Heights.
Just two more singles make Top 10 debut this week. First at Number 7 is Hilary Duff with what is only her third UK hit Wake Up. The American actress/singer first appeared on the chart almost exactly two years ago with the Number 9 single So Yesterday, following it up with Number 18 hit Come Cleanin April 2004. Since then she has been effortlessly combining her two careers, starring in movies and recording a second album (which didn't spawn any hit singles in this country). The new single is taken from a Most Wanted album which combines older hits with a sprinkling of new material. Want to know something? For a track taken from a stopgap release, this actually isn't half bad. I'm not going to flush all credibility down the toilet by showering this single with praise in the same week that I've been ambivalent about Kate Bush but if summery Californian teen pop pushes your button then this is a rather gloriously uplifting piece of pop-rock and well worthy of its chart placing. Lizzie McGuire has done good.
Speaking of American pop, in at Number 8 and matching the peak of their last hit Incomplete are the Backstreet Boys with new single Just Want You To Know. Just like Westlife by rights, their career should have been over about five years ago but somehow they have risen above the short-termism of teen pop and are incredibly enough heading for the tenth anniversary of their first hit single. They are amazingly consistent with it. Of their 18 hits to date, only two have missed the Top 10.
It is a rather quiet Top 20 with no other new entries until the Number 17 position. That has at least left the way clear for Bob Sinclar and Gary Nesta Pine whose single Love Generation makes a further climb. Although the single hasn't made major progress it has still climbed every week since its debut, moving 15-14-12 so far.
Said new entry at Number 17 is actually the second appearance in 2005 for this record. Apply Some Pressure was Maximo Park's first chart hit, peaking at Number 20 back in March. This re-release (following two other Top 20 hits) comes in the wake of their current nationwide tour and comes complete with a cute marketing gimmick. Each night on the tour the performance of Apply Some Pressure is recorded with fans able to download the performance of any gig they attended via the band's website. Number 17 is all they can manage this week though, their biggest hit remains Graffiti from back in May which peaked at Number 15.
Will Smith's latest single will go down as something of a disappointment. After being all over the chart in the spring with long-running Number 4 single Switch it is something of a shock to see the follow up Party Starter limp in at Number 19. Part of the problem I suspect may be due to the direction he is trying to push his music. Realising that the party-friendly tunes of his past were starting to lose their appeal he has attempted to give his tracks a harder edge. Party Starter exposes the flaw in this approach as the single just comes across as Eminem-lite and just makes you wish the man himself was performing. Not that Will Smith needs musical stardom that much these days but it is still a shame to see an artist who was once so good just become average.
The under-representation of club records that has characterized the summer appears to be continuing as the most anticipated dance release of the week can do little more than limp in at Number 22. Strange though it may sound Pump Up The Jam is one of the most famous dance records of all time. The group called Technotronic was essentially just one man, Belgian producer Jo Bogaert (who called himself Thomas De Quincy on production credits). His greatest gift to the world was the "teutonic thump", records driven by an insistent bass beat brought to the top of the mix, almost as if it was a second lead singer. Pump Up The Jam was their first single, released in this country in September 1989. The track flew up the chart, hit Number 2 and spawned a series of follow-ups, turning rappers Ya Kid K and MC Eric into stars in their own right. Even America succumbed (three Technotronic singles went Top 10 over there).
A track as famous as Pump Up The Jam is always going to attract attention from remixers. Tin Tin Out reworked the track in 1996, the single scraping the Top 40. More interesting it seemed was a 1998 remix by Belgian producers D.O.N.S. which appeared on a hits collection in that same year. This mix it seems had potential ahead of its time. Hence those in the know were rather amused to see a seven-year-old remix of a 16-year-old track become one of the hits of last years Miami Music Conference. The D.O.N.S. (Ollie 'Warp Brothers' Goedicke and Frank Siebahn) took to the stage in Ibiza over the summer, performing the track "live" and generating a buzz for the single. Licensing wrangles have meant it has taken until now for the track to emerge commercially but despite the fuss Number 22 is as good as it gets. Like so many club records from the late 80s, the original version of Pump Up The Jam sounds cheesy and naff to modern ears, yet it emerged from a time when the club scene was at its most vibrant, creative and exciting. In a way, you long for that time to come around again.