Favourite Irish albums of the CLUAS writers
Brian Farrelly's top 5 Irish albums of all time...
Album: "Loveless" (1991)
How can genius be described? What is it that distinguishes a Picasso from the work of a jobbing artist? Perhaps it is the fact that every time you encounter one, you take something new from the texture, the subtle nuances, the simplicity that masks the minute attention to detail. And so it is for "Loveless", a shimmering, lush, sonic landscape that propelled MBV from the indy-by-numbers throng to legendary status. This is the modern day equivalent of a symphony - an album that must be considered as a unit and not dissected to its constituent parts. It is an ethereal flow of grinding guitars and washed out, androgynous vocals, epic in its ambitions. Kevin Shields pursuit of perfection almost broke the band and bankrupted their record company, Creation. The recording is shrouded in myth including tales of Shields waking exhausted singer Belinda Butcher in the middle of the night to ensure her wraith-like vocals were as inert as possible. It is little wonder that Shields output has been negligible in the decade since it's release, how do you follow up such a tour de force? Sounding as contemporary and fresh today as ever, Loveless is without question the finest Irish album ever released. Currently on mid-price release, there really is no excuse for having such a gaping hole in your collection. Kick back with your anaesthetic of choice, and indulge.
Act: Whipping Boy
Album: "Heartworm" (1995)
Ah The Whipping Boy - the name alone conjures up memories of 'bring your own beer' gigs in the Project Art Centre where the strobe light minimum was three songs. The band's visceral and edgy performances were notorious around Dublin but their early recordings were subdued with more than a nod to their shoe-gazing contemporaries. Then came Heartworm, as close to a perfect studio distillation of what a band are about live as is ever likely to be committed to disc. Even through the melodic riffs and orchestral flourishes, there is a raw, driving power underpinning every track. But the real beauty of this album is the seamless marriage of the dark, brooding lyrics and the chilling mood of the music. Indeed, the lyrics proved controversial, an issue that unfairly dogged the band - but hey, life ain't pretty, you heard it here first folks. If Charles Bukowski or Hunter S. Thompson had lived in Dublin, this album would have been the soundtrack to their lives.
Act: Fatima Mansions
Album: "Viva Dead Ponies" (1991)
Cathal Coughlan has always been something of an enigma. From his pop-tinged beginnings with Microdisney, he formed Fatima Mansions and mutated into a very angry man. In essence, "Viva Dead Ponies" is an unrelenting stream of vitriolic consciousness, bleak in its political, social and religious invective. The music is equally uncompromising, running a whole gamut of styles from the strangely soulful "You're a Rose" to the downright industrial "Blues for Ceausescu". And yet for all of this, there are hidden pop gems and flashes of caustic humour such as the classic "Only losers take the bus". How refreshing it was to have someone putting the boot into the twee view of Ireland peddled by The Hot House Flowers and The Waterboys at the time. Irreverent and cynical, "Viva Dead Ponies" makes the top five for the sheer ballsy courage of Coughlan's convictions.
Act: The Blades
Album: "Last Man In Europe" (1985)
At a time when U2 were going stadium 'rawk', The Blades released "Last Man in Europe", a complete antidote to all things fist-clenchingly Bruce Springsteen. The Blades wore their working class credentials on their sleeves, the songs a social commentary on the Ireland of the time which was a decidedly grim place, a whole generation either on their way overseas or saving their social to do just that. Yet the real charm of this album is the stark contrast between the lyrical content and the unashamedly infectious music - seeped in roots and ska rythms, laced with brass from early Stax/Motown, "Downnarket" and the title track are two of the finest Irish singles ever. Not that the album is without flaws, there is some awful synth work and plodding production but the quality of the songs shine through. Tragically, the band drowned in a sea of record company indifference, with disaffected songwriter Paul Cleary walking away from music for the guts of a decade. What might have been...
Act: The Pogues
Album: "If I should Fall from the Grace of God" (1988)
Here is the strange thing about The Pogues. A whole generation of people through the seventies and eighties grew up rejecting the music of their parents, taking their lead from England and glued to Top of the Pops (it was cool then) when an Irish act managed to break through. It made you proud to see The Rats or Phil Lynott beamed into your sitting room on a Thursday night - this was our yardstick of success. Meanwhile, across England a very different view of Irish music existed. In the smokey Irish bars, they celebrated with raucous balladry and singsongs, the (inexplicable) sale of cockles and mussels, drunken excess and the longing for the auld sod. These were places where time stopped in the fifties with the first wave of immigrants, sustaining a culture that had long since expired in their home country. It was from this mire The Pogues emerged, a pissed up, political fusion of traditional music and punk, centred on the poetic song writing of Shane McGowan. Their success came as a kick up the backside to most of us. It was a sudden realisation that we had largely ignored our rich musical heritage and that in the right hands, it was cool as f$*k. The choice of album matters little (although "If I should Fall.." is their finest hour), The Pogues changed the face of Irish music, reawakened our interest in trad, and for that, they should be saluted.
- Check out the final Top 50 Irish Albums of All Time as voted by CLUAS.com readers
- Discuss this selection of best Irish albums of all time on the CLUAS Discussion Board.
- Check out the top 5 Irish albums of all time chosen by these other CLUAS writers:
Allen Conlan Anthony Morrissey Brano Brian Farrelly Brian Kelly Celine O'Malley Chris Ford Ciaran Wrenn Cormac Looney Donal Griffin Dromed Gav Reilly Hugh Tynan Jimmy Murphy Jules Jackson Ollie O'Leary Stephen McNulty