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Eschewing the usual "stand up for the key change ballads" of Westlife, the clichéd urban "fun in the club" knockoffs of JLS, and the tailor-made stadium rock anthems of Take That, the Wanted burst onto the pop scene in 2010 as one of the more exciting boy bands of their generation. But while their self-titled debut album included everything from The Good, the Bad and the Ugly-sampling dance-rock, angular indie disco, and Coldplay-esque tearjerkers, their follow-up, Battleground, is disappointingly a little more pedestrian. Indeed, having stumbled across a successful dance-pop formula, the quintet now seems scared to deviate from the now trademark brand of trance-lite synths, pulsing beats, and melancholic melodies first showcased on chart-topper "All Time Low." This hands-in-the-air approach dominates the album, whether it's the old-school rave of "The Weekend," the Guetta-esque electro-pop of "Lightning," or the Alphaville-influenced Red Nose Day single "Gold Forever," and while these are all serviceable dance-pop floor-fillers, only the authentic Balearic beats and accordion riffs of "Glad You Came" sound like they weren't spawned from a factory production line. The less uptempo numbers aren't much more inspiring either. There's the obligatory Ryan Tedder-style clattering R&B ballad ("Last to Know"), the dreary acoustic ballad ("I Want It All"), and the Diane Warren-penned power ballad ("Rocket"), which furthers the theory that the Grammy winner hasn't written anything worthwhile in over a decade. However, there are a few flashes of invention proving that the Wanted are still a cut above your average boy band. "Warzone" is a subtle attempt at dubstep that fuses somber piano chords and an epic soft rock chorus with distant wobble basslines and spacious beats, while the muted beats and minimal analog synths of "Be Your Strength" could have escaped from a James Blake record (if you ignore the song's over-earnest vocals). Battleground should still consolidate their position as heirs to the boy band throne, but with the likes of One Direction now snapping at their heels, they'll have to rediscover their inventive streak in the future if they are to ever take the crown.
Review by Jon O'Brien
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