Sunday, 10 April 2011

Best Irish Albums: SIX

A HOUSE – I Am The Greatest (1991)

Best song: “Endless Art” 

All those Irish albums I’ve reviewed so far were good, no doubt about that, but it is perhaps now that the real, filler-free, timeless classics enter. And what a better way to kick off this top 5 than with a brilliant art-pop statement by a brilliant band nobody knows about? 

Yes, A House is another obscurity on my list. I won’t pretend I know a lot about this band – in fact, I Am The Greatest (their most celebrated record – though the word ‘celebrated’ doesn’t sound too good here) is their only album I’ve heard in its entirety. And it’s fantastic. 

When you record an art-pop statement, your primary concern might be the ‘art’ bit. The ‘statement’ bit. The lyrics. And A House clearly wanted to get their snotty, “ars longa” ideas across – just check out songs like “I Don’t Care”, “Endless Art” or the title track. But even with lyrics so self-consciously clever and amusing – it just wouldn’t have worked without the craft they put into writing these tunes. The tunes they sometimes didn’t even bother to sing. “Endless Art”, for instance, is just the singer narrating, enumerating the names and years of life of eminent (and not so much) artists – everyone, really, from William Shakespeare to Sid Vicious to Van Gogh. Name-dropping of the highest order you might think? Well, yes, definitely, but the thing’s backed by a good, effective melody that will not make the song tiresome on second listen. In fact, I’ve heard I Am The Greatest about 5 or 6 times now, and it’s still the album's best track. 

But it’s not all about “look at us, we are different, artsy, and original”. They are as insecure as anyone. There’s a lovely, singalongish, and almost touching “I Am Afraid”; there’s an a capella love lament “When I First Saw You”; there’s a frustrated generation song “You’re Too Young”. Much of it is built around a simple but effective acoustic guitar rhythm, which makes the songs catchy and hugely entertaining. There are 15 songs all in all – and not a single one I could live without. Particularly since they cared to bring some diversity too: we have a darkish, gorgeous, slightly mystical ballad (“Blind Faith”); we have a novelty little pop ditty (“Victor”); we have an engaging mid-tempo punk song (“Live Life Dead Die”), etc. 

So if you have any further doubts about I Am The Greatest, just take another look at that tasteful album cover. They obviously knew what they were doing. 

Irishness. I would nominate the weeping, heartbreaking violin in “You’re Too Young”. Why not? 

RECOMMENDATIONS. I’m sure they recorded many other good things, but you certainly owe it to yourself to hear I Am The Greatest. Wherever you might find it.

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