posted on May 11, 2008 13:14
A review of the album 'Opium' by Mark Geary
Review Snapshot: Well, it's not poppy, and neither is it addictive. Unadventurous, overserious, monotonous and lacking in individuality and personality, 'Opium' embodies all the worst traits of the Irish acoustic singer-songer sound.
The Cluas Verdict? 4 out of 10
In August 2004, promoting his album 'Ghosts', Mark Geary gave an interview to the Irish edition of the Sunday Times. In it, he was at pains to distance himself from "the Whelan's lock-in crowd" (the Dublin singer-songer circle that frequented the well-known bar and venue) and "the Glen and Damo scene".
Recounting his experiences with American record companies and promoters, he also spoke of "fighting for your right to fail" - a line from the album's title track. (Angered by this self-contented lack of ambition, your reviewer criticised Geary in an opinion piece on the conservatism we saw as rife in the Irish music scene.)
Four years later, Geary is back with his new album, 'Opium'. The intervening time has seen him grow closer to the Glen and Damo scene - Hansard provides a photo for the record's poster and lyric sheet. And 'Ghosts' enjoyed favourable reviews and punter interest, so he can't claim to be a loser any more. Can he?
But no, on 'Opium' Geary's worldview hasn't changed. He's still less 'I came, I saw, I conquered' and more 'I feel, I fall, I fail' - three ideas that recur through the songs here.
Musically, 'Opium' is unremarkable and predictable; it mostly tends towards the downbeat alt-country rhythm favoured by unimaginative acoustic-strummers. Ann Scott's sweet vocals on 'Facin' The Fall' make a refreshing change, but she can't save the track from its maudlin destiny: "We got nothing, nothing at all / Facin' the fall." There are no memorable melodies or instrument parts on 'Opium'; all the musical content is unobtrusive strumming or shuffling, subordinate to Geary's monotonous delivery.
True to singer-songer form, whenever Geary takes a break from tracking developments in his navel it's to attack The Man. From under the bandwagon he takes half-hearted potshots at the usual distant targets like "the corporate climb" in 'Atrophy', "the churches and your killing fields" in 'Always' and "the soldier / Drunk on power" (and not "drunk on Powers", as your reviewer thought on first listen) in 'The King Of Swords'. Someday, some brave and intelligent singer-songer will take a deadly tune to concrete local issues like criminally under-resourced health services, so that The Man will lose an election. It could even be Geary, if he starts taking some chances with his music.
We found it a bit rich to hear these lines in 'Tuesday': "I don't like your catwalk eyes / Leave your prejudice aside". This is the traditional singer-songer attack on soul-less superficiality, here equated with narrow-mindedness. But isn't a singer on stage just as much a role-playing performer as a model on a catwalk? Fortunately, a couplet from 'Always' neatly sums up the sensitive, self-centred singer-songer persona: "If you're listening, I'll begin / To pay for pleasure, gonna bruise my skin."
Lots of people love this genre of music, and that's fair enough. But it's comfort-food for the overserious indie-kid, no more or less artistic and soulful than your Vegas MOR diva showboating about love cutting her heart like a knife. Unlike more inventive and idiosyncratic peers such as Mumblin' Deaf Ro, Cathy Davey or Simple Kid, there's nothing on 'Opium' to distinguish Geary from the masses of self-pitying bedsit buskers.
To buy a new or (very reasonably priced) 2nd hand copy of this album on Amazon just click here.