Monday, 11 April 2011

Best Irish Albums: FIVE

CATHAL COUGHLAN – The Sky’s Awful Blue (2002)

Best song: “Amused As Hell” 

I’ve always had a feeling I should love Cathal Coughlan a lot more than I do. But bile, witty lyrics aside, neither the painfully plain Microdisney nor the shambolic and uninteresting Fatima Mansions managed to catch my attention. The melodies were bland, obvious, or they weren’t there at all. I was ready to give up, but then I just kept having this nagging feeling Cathal Coughlan did have something for me. Did he, then, does he? Well, as it turns out - yes, his solo career, and especially The Sky’s Awful Blue

This album, which is Cathal’s third solo release, is a decisively morbid affair. The cover and the title don’t lie. Full of chilling, sorrowful melodies; pessimistic, acerbic lyrics; that deep, Scott Walker-like croon; and bleakest atmosphere imaginable, The Sky’s Awful Blue is certainly not for the faint-hearted. Still, the thing won’t make you take your own life – simply because the thing’s so impossibly beautiful. Behind the outward coldness and misery there’s a lot of sad, narcotic charm to be found – in the gracefully arranged orchestration and particularly in those deep, haunting, magnetic tunes. 

Mentioning specific tracks would be pointless. Suffice it to say that The Sky’s Awful Blue is an extremely consistent record, stylistically and quality-wise. I’ve picked the slightly more upbeat (not lyrically!) “Amused As Hell” as my favourite, but that depends on a particular listen. A listen that should better be through headphones - in the evening gloom of a lonely apartment. Sometimes sparse, sometimes relatively lush (with lots of acoustic guitars, violins, melancholy piano lines), the album never really loses its dark, bitter, strangely addictive charm. 

Everyone should have this record in his/her collection. The man has a very compelling, intriguing vision of the world – whether you agree with that vision or not is immaterial. He is an artist, you know. 

Irishness. I could get away with a word ‘atmosphere’ here, but that would be too cheap a shot. I could mention the US version of the LP which ends with “Westlin’ Winds”, an old traditional ballad. But then that, of course, is a Scottish ballad, with words written by Robert Burns, so… I’m really at a loss here. Skip it. 

RECOMMENDATIONS. If you like this one, there’s no reason why you wouldn’t like some of his other solo releases. But I have a feeling that for many one record of this kind would seem quite enough.

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