National Treasures. Or Not.
For any Irish band, dipping their toe into the murky, uncharted waters of music criticism beyond these shores can be quite telling. No matter how an act styles itself, unless they have crafted their sound and image entirely within the confines of their own imaginations, they’re almost certainly going to sound derivative. Most Irish bands seem to look to America or the UK for their influences and then, very often, state that they want to go over to the US or UK to pursue their dreams of success. My question to them is, and always has been, “why?” Unless you already have an unbeatable, proven track record in sales (by which I mean, you’ve perhaps run a successful business which deals in sand, and have made a fortune in exports to the UAE), why on earth do you ever imagine that the US or the UK would want their own music sold back to them by Irish musicians? By constantly using these scenes as influences, Irish acts are already well behind when it comes to competing in a scene outside of our own.
It obviously depends on what goals any band sets itself (The Blizzards, for instance, have been quite happy to remain successful in their own country by wisely bringing their music to every corner of Ireland, almost to the exclusion of pursuing success elsewhere) but most are undone from the outset by their sheer unoriginality. Fight Like Apes are one of the few in recent years who’ve shown that self-styling can surprise and confound outside of Ireland – whether record sales catch up is another matter but that hardly seems to be the point.
I mention all this because I just came across a review of The Coronas’ Decision Time single by my former editor and colleague Ged McAlea over at my first reviewing home, London-based webzine SoundsXP.com. It makes for interesting reading:
“Ireland’s Coronas are claimed by some (the insane, clearly) to walk the line between Jeff Buckley and the Libertines. Jeff Buckley and Take That perhaps. Danny O’Reilly shares Buckley’s cod-soul groan of a voice and ‘Decision Time’ (3ú Records) has a horribly manipulative chorus and over-inflated construction with a hearty dash of U2’s bombast.”
The wonderful thing about this review is that it’s entirely independent. There’s no parochial, editorial-imperative bullshit that says, “oh, man, they’re an Irish band, we can’t slate them, we have to be ‘constructive’ to the point of buddy-buddy”. It’s a case of calling it as the reviewer sees it. Be assured, English bands aren’t reviewed as ‘English bands’ on this site either – they’re just bands.
There’s a dreadful editorial habit in Ireland of giving Irish acts a metaphorical “one or two star head-start” on acts from outside of this country. Either that or such a dreadful waste of valuable plastic as The Coronas’ Heroes Or Ghosts album is generally shunned by review pages, lest an honest opinion (no pinched cheeks or pats on the head) causes offence to friends and family. This has to stop; it does our music scene, and the perception of our music scene abroad, no favours whatsoever. It’s one thing giving our bands publicity through interviews and news pages, but it’s quite another pretending, in reviews, that distinctly average or downright dreadful music should be encouraged purely on the basis that it’s local. Just look at the Superjimenez debate over at State.
I do recommend that every Irish indie act send their singles or EPs (but not demos) to SoundsXP for review. The editors and writers are an amiable bunch of music nerds, geeks who spend all their time and money buying music and going to gigs in a scene far larger, and more consistently experimental, than this country could ever produce. Their knowledge and enthusiasm are huge but most importantly, they’ll give an honest assessment of whatever they hear, wherever it comes from. Whether what the writers say inspires the reviewed bands to push their creativity, carry on as normal or simply give up, is up to the bands – at least it shows them what the reaction is likely to be before they book that 25-date UK or US tour.
The Coronas are, of course, a terribly ordinary band – entertaining for a particular demographic on the college circuit but unappealing in the extreme beyond that. Which is fine, so long as that suits them. In a scene too full of derivative, overrated acts like The Coronas, Ham Sandwich and The Chapters, who get an utterly misguided sense of their own importance, it’s about time we did our duty to review bands as bands – not as ‘friends’ or automatic and undeserving national treasures.