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Old 10-18-2022, 06:33 AM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Failte! Trollhearts's Irish Reviews

(It's pronounced "fawl-cha" and means "welcome", which you're not )
No, not albums IN Irish; that would be stupid and would bring back some very unpleasant memories of school, but albums by Irish artists. A short thread, you say? How dare you, sir? Or, to react in a more Irish way, c'm... c'm over here... n say... say that ye... ye bastard! I'll mallevogue ye! I'll stick this shillelagh up yer --

Wow! That got violent and aggressive pretty fast, didn't it? Better press on with the reviews. Well, as everyone knows, Ireland has produced some huge acts, from U2 to Thin Lizzy and Westlife to, um, Hozier, and great guitarists too, like Rory Gallagher and Gary Moore. And yes, for the purpose of this thread I am taking Northern Ireland as being part of Ireland. I'm a staunch Republican (not really) - and no, it means something entirely different over here, thanks very much! - so will consider the North part of the Republic, but only when it suits me of course.

Enough politics, as we say here, ar aghaid leat! Let's crack on!


The Sea of Love - The Adventures - 1988 (Elektra)

A little-known Irish rock band, the second album from the Adventures is a joy to listen to. A seven-piece band from Belfast, they recorded a total of four albums, of which I have only heard this one and its follow-up, Trading Secrets with the Moon, which is also an excellent album. It's a criminal shame these guys never made it, as in ways their sound is quite reminiscent of the Waterboys, and I would have thought that maybe they might have latched on to the success of the Scottish superstars, particularly around the Fisherman's Blues era, which would have tied in with the release of this album. However it was not to be, and although they have reformed to play the odd gig here and there, with their last release being in 1993 it seems unlikely we will ever hear from them again on album.

Which makes listening to this album even more important. It's a real example of how a band can put together an almost flawless record, gain critical acclaim and yet not crack the big time. As our American cousins say, go figure.

The very first thing you hear when the laser hits the CD is a drawn-in breath, which is very real, not having been edited out of the production and therefore giving the feeling of a band who really care about and enjoy their music. The next thing you hear is the powerful voice of Terry Sharpe singing “Oh I'm drowning in the sea of love!” before drums, guitar and keys crash together to get the title track underway. Backing vocals by Eileen Gribben meld with Terry's, while her brother Pat crashes out the power chords. It's a song of holding on, with a powerful beat and a great melody. Would have been a perfect single, you would think, and it was. But it never got into even the top 40! I blame the X-Factor. Yeah, I know it wasn't around in 1988, but hell, I blame the X-Factor for the decline of modern music, so I ain't going to let a little fact like that stand in the way!

Following on from “Drowning in the Sea of Love” is the song that ended up being their only top 20 single, the wonderful “Broken Land”. Opening with a tinkly little piano line from keyboardist Jonathan Whitehead, it's not long before the rest of the band crash in, Paul Crowder's drums in particular making their presence felt in no uncertain terms as they drive the song along. ”When did the boy become a man?” sings Terry, ”And lose his right to love?/ So much confusion to this plan/ These times are not changing.” “Broken Land” is more Celtic-sounding than the opener, having something like uileann pipes on it, and was in fact my introduction to the music of this band.

“You Don't Have to Cry Anymore” has another acapella introduction, like “Drowning in the Sea of Love”, but is a heavier track, while the standout track (after the first two) is “The Trip to Bountiful (When the Rain Comes Down)”, which seems to be based on the film of the same name, concerning an old woman who travels, against her family's wishes, back to her hometown in Bountiful, Texas. I haven't seen the film, but the song is immense, chock-full of emotion and a very catchy bassline from Tony Ayre, who sadly died just before Christmas 2009. It starts off with Eileen singing like a Siren, “Come home”, before the bassline takes command of the track, joined by Crowder's drums, a slowburner that soon gets underway with the piano and Gerry “Spud” Murphy on guitar joining in. There's also a sort of reprise within the song, an instrumental passage that contains a fine piano run and takes the track to its conclusion, amidst choral vocals to the end.

There's no denying the power and majesty of this album, but like many others it kind of peaks after the abovementioned. The rest of the tracks are great, but they're not the classics-that-should-have-been that form what I guess I would term the first part of the album. Surprisingly, with the title it has, the album has no actual ballads, certainly nothing that would be recognised as such. “Broken Land” is slow enough to be a ballad, but I wouldn't class it as one. Most of the other tracks are either too fast or have the wrong lyrics for a ballad. Some albums would suffer from such a deficiency, but that isn't the case with this opus. Every song is catchy, commercial, well-written and flawlessly played. Why they never made it is beyond me. Terry Sharpe's voice is clear, warm and rolls over the ears like a gentle river, “Spud” Murphy is a great guitarist, able to rip loose with a powerful solo or keep things ticking over in the way great axemen can without effort. The keyboards talents of Jonathan Whitehead are all over the album - in many ways he characterises the sound of the band. With support from the other four member of the band, it's truly a mystery why they never broke the market, and why more people didn't get into their sound.

I guess in the end, the Adventure was not to be.

TRACK LISTING

1. Drowning in the Sea of Love
2. Broken Land
3. You Don't Have to Cry Anymore
4. The Trip to Bountiful (When the Rain Comes Down)
5. Heaven Knows Which Way
6. Hold Me Now
7. The Sound of Summer
8. When Your Heart was Young
9. One Step from Heaven
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Old 11-03-2022, 04:33 PM   #2 (permalink)
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Feel No Shame - Aslan - 1988 (EMI)

Ah, the great could-have-beens of Irish rock! Aslan were formed back in the mid-1980s and were quickly snapped up by major record label EMI for this, their debut album, after their first single became a radio smash hit in 1986. The album, Feel No Shame, subsequently legged it to number one in Ireland and did extremely well in the UK, but the sudden success was too much for the band, who split, only to reform later on.

This, however, remains one of their most important and powerful releases, featuring no less than four hit singles in Ireland, and it firmly established them as a major new band and a very hot property. You only have to listen to it to hear the quality that was there from the beginning. It grabs you by the throat right from the start with the pounding rocker “Loving Me Lately”, which chugs along on the guitars of Joe Jewell and Billy McGuinness, with the drumming of Alan Downey (any relation to Brian from Thin Lizzy? To be honest, I don't know...) carrying the track along at a great lick. It's a song laden with angst, but angry angst, if you can imagine that. Pretty simple lyric, but it works very well, especially as an opener.

“Pretty Thing”, one of the tracks selected as a single, and which got to number 14 in Ireland, is a whole different proposal. Sung with wracked emotion by frontman Christy Dignam, it's a lament on the woes of the world, carried on a guitar and keyboard melody, which starts off slowly for about ten seconds, before Downey's drums kick things into gear, and the song gets going. Jewell's jangling guitar would come to be as recognised by Aslan's fans as the distinctive sound of the Edge is by those who follow U2. In essence, the lyric is again simple, though deeper, if that makes sense: ”Oh why, can you tell me why/ Is all this sorrow and suffering/ Still going on? / All they ever wanted was a chance to live/ Sometimes I wonder how can we still forgive?”

One of the standout tracks on the album, and the single that brought them to EMI's attention, and eventually their stable, “This is” is another deep song, slower, just as dark, and just as brilliant. ”These are the hands of a tired man/ This is the old man's shroud/ These are the eyes of a blood-crazed tiger/ Staring at the maddening crowd.” Aslan were from the very start all about speaking out on the wrongs in the world, trying to open people's eyes through music. The fact that this single was so successful on radio as a mere demo, and led to a record deal for the boys, speaks volumes about its quality, and the fact that it's still played on Irish radio a measure of the esteem Aslan are held in.

“Been So Long” is a slow grinder, with a sort of reggae beat, while “Hungry” gets rockin' again, before “Heat of the Cell” steps things up yet another gear, rocketing off with a hugely catchy hook and some great vocal harmonies/ ”In the heat of the cell/ Sits a shell of a man/ In the shifting sand grows an ageing tree/ In the dark of the day/ There's a madman born /There's a voice in the room/ And he's speaking to me.” The next track, “Please Don't Stop” was selected for a single, but I would have taken “Heat of the Cell” anyday, The former is poppy in its way, fast and boppy and quite commercial, but as I said, the hooks in “Heat of the Cell” should have made it a good contender for a single. Still, "Please Don't Stop" reached no. 7 in Ireland, so I guess EMI knew what they were doing. “Please Don't Stop” is a great little track, featuring again chugging drums from Downey and some great harmonica work from Billy McGuinness - how often do you say that? Good chorus too, real stadium stuff: ”Climb to the top and shout out loud! /You're never stepping nowhere /With your head stuck in the clouds /Climb to the top and shout out loud!/ 'Cos you're never stepping nowhere, /Till you're stepping out of the crowd.”

Thing slow right down then for “Down On Me”, a very honest depiction of life in Northern Ireland during what would have been what we knew as “The Troubles”, when protestant fought catholic and the IRA battled both the UVF and the RUC, as well as the British Army for control of the Six Counties. ”Freedom is a precious thing/ In this world today/ We don't know how lucky we really are/ If there's something to be said/ There is nothing you can say /So don't look down on me.” It's all driven on a guitar melody, growing more and more angry and frustrated as the song progresses, with Dignam's impassioned vocal calling out like a voice in the bomb-blasted wilderness. [i]”If you think your life's a waste of time/ If you think your time's a waste of life /Come over to this land/ Take a look around. / This is a tragic situation/ And a massive demonstration on how to die/ So please don't cry, please don't cry/ Because they're falling all around me/ And I wish I was not here/ Broken bodies they surround me /And I wish that I was not here.”

There's time to shift up through the gears once more before we close proceedings, with a fast and defiant love song, Jewell's guitar again setting the scene, with some truly excellent riffs from the young guitarist as "Sands of Time" powers along. The closer is also the title song, and it's worth waiting for. Seems to be the plea of someone separated from their lover due to misbehaviour - you could guess at abuse - as Dignam sings like a very tired man who has reached the end of his rope ”Is it love or is it hate?/ When can I come home? / Why can't I feel no shame?” It's driven on McGuinness' magical harmonica and guitar, with a great drumbeat, almost like a train coming down the track. The harmonica gives the track a great blues feel, and it really is the perfect closer to what is after all quite close to being a perfect debut album. Who says we Irish can't rock?

The cover of the album shows a man holding a baby in his arms, and I could be wrong, but the child looks to be similar to the “boy” seen on U2's early albums, War and Boy, and who became their “mascot” early in their career. I believe this is meant to be a homage to U2, the boys tipping their collective hats to the most famous and successful Irish band in history. It's also possible that the child is wearing headphones, though I can't be sure.


TRACKL ISTING

1. Loving Me Lately
2. Pretty Thing
3. This is
4. Been So Long
5. The Hunger
6. The Heat of the Cell
7. Please Don't Stop
8. Down On Me
9. Sands of Time
10. Feel No Shame
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