They're superstars in Europe, but America is about to get its first taste of Boyzone, the five-member Irish pop group who've already captivated the rest of the world with their potent blend of soulful harmonies and unforgettable melodies. After earning plenty of accolades and racking up platinum records overseas, the quintet is descending upon the U.S. with their first domestic release, Where We Belong. As lead singer and songwriter Ronan Keating says, "What we set out to do is make a great pop album. That's what's important to us." And that's exactly what they've done.
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Where We Belong is the culmination of five years of hard work for Ronan, Mikey Graham, Keith Duffy, Shane Lynch and Stephen Gately, a band of twentysomethings from the north side of Dublin, Ireland. Since their entrance into the music world with 1995's Said And Done, international fans and critics alike have been mesmerized by the quintet, who's solid voices and unique style set them apart from other synthesizer-driven, pre-fabricated "boy bands." The five of us have our own personalities," explains Ronan. "We don't have somebody telling us what to say or do or wear. We've taken control from day one."
Boyzone have always had a say in their career -- from songwriting to producing, they've been involved in all aspects of their sound. With the knowledge and experience of writing songs for Said And Done, 1996's A Different Beat found the group challenging themselves by co-producing nine of its tracks. The album, like its predecessor, went straight to the U.K. charts at Number One and sold over 2.2 million copies worldwide.
Where We Belong, a lush album full of sing-along songs and romantic tracks recorded in New York, Stockholm and Dublin, isn't just a bunch of singles thrown together -- it's a body of work that the guys are extremely proud to introduce to an American audience. "All The Time In The World" is an uplifting, feel-good number about love which embodies Boyzone's knack for crafting catchy tunes with a pop groove. It's a particular favorite of Ronan's ("You never get bored of it," he says. "It's one of those songs I can't get out of my head"), whose powerful voice leads the way on the tender ballad. And though they're known as gifted balladeers, the group can also get funky, like on the hip-hop flavored "Walk On (So They Told Me)", which wraps its slinky groove around the guy's vocals. "Picture Of You", featured on the Bean movie soundtrack, even earned Ronan an Ivor Novello award, a prestigious European songwriting honor.
In addition to taking their pens to the page for much of Where We Belong, Boyzone teamed up with acclaimed songwriters like Grammy-winner Diana Warren (Celine Dion, LeAnn Rimes). She contributed the tear-jerking stunner "I'll Never Not Need You", featuring sultry guitar rhythms and wall-of-sound harmonies sure to make it a standout single. As for producers, Boyzone called on proven hitmakers like Mark Hudson and Mike Mancini (Bon Jovi, Hanson), Denniz Pop of Backstreet Boys fame ("Will Be Yours") and Steve Lipson (Annie Lennox, Whitney Houston).
Boyzone's experimentation with a wide variety of musical styles on Where We Belong took them on a much-anticipated journey. "We crossed over from being a teeny boy band into being an older band that any age group would be into," Ronan says.
"It's a bigger album, a more mature album that will touch a lot of people, in many ways." From romance to straight-up-fun, Boyzone captured the exuberant spirit that have made them the "biggest pop band in Britain."
In 1993, all of the group's members were working in separate entertainment careers in the Dublin arts scene. Ronan was a singer in an alternative rock band, while Mikey was also honing his singing skills at clubs all over the city; Shane was a featured dancer around town; Stephen was an actor and dancer; and Keith was a drummer. All five were gifted songwriters with influences as diverse as George Michael, Eric Clapton and LL Cool J, but they hadn't yet found the niche they were looking for. That changed when Shane came up with the concept for an all-guy singing group. He instantly contacted Stephen and the other members-to-be to see if they were interested. Ronan, an acquaintance of Stephen, was the final ingredient to be added to the Boyzone vocal blend.
After hooking up with their manager Louie Walsh, the newly christened group took matters into their own hands and recorded an independent single (a cover version of the Spinners' "Working My Way Back To You"), which promptly reached Number Three in the charts. Soon, they signed a recording deal with Polydor in Europe and the budding quintet became overnight sensations. "From there, it just grew," Ronan recalls. "We started to write our own material and things just got bigger and bigger."
With all the fame and acclaim they've achieved in Europe, Asia and Latin America, Boyzone have their sights set on conquering the United States. "We're really looking forward to it," says Ronan. These five lads from Dublin have done plenty of growing up along the way -- and the album's title Where We Belong says it all. "We're very happy and confident in doing what we do," he adds. "We're passionate about succeeding. We're five good friends and we know what it takes to make things happen."
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