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Wonderland (Irish Girl Band): Wonderland *

Album Notes

While Boyzone's reunion and Jedward's extended 15 minutes of fame continue to prove that Ireland remains the hotbed of boy band talent, the Emerald Isle hasn't produced a successful girl group since B*Witched in the late '90s. Hoping to rectify this situation is Westlife vocalist Kian Egan and X-Factor judge Louis Walsh's side project, Wonderland, the latest five-piece to attempt to capitalize on Girls Aloud's self-imposed hiatus and Sugababes' continuous implosion. Unlike the shiny dance-pop of their fellow heir-to-the-girl-band-throne hopefuls the Saturdays and Parade, the Dublin-based outfit have opted for a more sophisticated approach on their self-titled debut, with a sound inspired by the classic AOR of Fleetwood Mac, the melodic soft rock of the Corrs, and the teen-friendly country-pop of Taylor Swift. While the likes of Nashville-tinged lead single "Not a Love Song," the sweeping acoustic ballad "Nothing Moves Me Anymore," and the melancholic harmonies of "Is It Just Me" are the kind of easy listening ditties destined to become Radio 2 staples, it's hard to see how their pleasantly inoffensive nature will succeed where Walsh's extremely similar previous foray into girl power, Bellefire, miserably failed. It's only when they up the tempo such as on the driving anthemic "Starlight," the ABBA-influenced "In Your Arms" (the former surprisingly penned by two members of chav-rap crew Blazin' Squad, the latter by Take That's Mark Owen), and the Motown-inspired "Get Your Boots On," do the girls come into their own. Unfortunately, and perhaps predictably considering their two mentors' history, Wonderland's 15 tracks are bogged down by a number of superfluous cover versions, from Ryan Adams "When the Stars Go Blue" and Lady Antebellum's "Need You Now" to Alexis Strum's "It Could Be You," of which only the latter's Celtic reworking adds anything to the original, while the bonus acoustic renditions of 2010's chart hits from Adele ("Rolling in the Deep") and Rihanna ("Only Girl in the World") suggest an unnecessary crisis of confidence in their own material. Perhaps a little too mature for the audience they're chasing, and not mature enough for the audience they are more likely to appeal to, Wonderland runs the risk of being caught in no man's land. But while it's unlikely to achieve the success of its homeland's male pop acts, it's an accomplished and well-produced debut a million miles away from their denim-clad, teenybopper forebears. ~ Jon O'Brien



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