I love Clannad. I first started listening to them about seven years ago now, I guess. A wee 14 years old at the time, I was mainly into Enya’s music (I was a strange kid!), so I got the Clannad album that featured her on lead vocals (‘An Tull’ on Fuaim). Much to my surprise, I found I liked the sound of Clannad. I picked up their An Diolam compilation album and decided that I definitely loved their sound, and I’ve been a fan ever since!
To me, there are three distinct ‘eras’ of Clannad’s music. There’s the early traditional folk years (Clannad to Fuaim), the Celtic pop/rock years (Magical Ring to Sirius), and the Celtic ‘New Age’ (or perhaps World) years (Anam to Landmarks). The common thread through all of their music is its foundation in the band’s Irish roots, and that indefinable ‘Clannad sound’. It’s just something about the combination of Moya Brennan’s voice with their lovely melodies. You simply can’t describe it – you have to hear it.
It might seem strange for me to pick Sirius to post about. When it was first released in 1987 the music press branded the album ‘too American,’ ‘too polished,’ ‘too bland’ – some reviews went as far as saying Clannad had ‘sold out.’ Why all the hate? It probably stems from the fact that, yeah, Sirius is much more ‘produced’ than their previous work. The songs are slick and polished – but not to the detriment of the music. Sirius is simply another facet of the ‘Clannad sound.’ A rockin’ facet!
Cymbal sweeps start off the album on ‘In Search Of A Heart’. All bangin’ drums and electric guitars, it would have fit comfortably on radio stations in the 80s. Moya sounds cool as a ‘rock chick’! ‘Second Nature’ is an electrified update of Clannad’s earlier work. The sound of the traditional Uilleann pipes in this song is augmented by saxophones and makes for a really neat fusion of pop and Celtic music.
Now we come to ‘Turning Tide,’ a great rocker with epic strings and what I think is a flute. It may be a synthesizer. I have no idea what it is but it sounds cool! A sweeping, powerful track. Going from strength to strength, ‘Skellig’ comes next. Talk about epic! A tale of Irish mythology, ‘Skellig’ feels kind of like a mini-movie. The lyrics are so visual and the music conjures up dramatic imagery – this would have made an excellent music video!!
Back to 80s radio! ‘Stepping Stone’ would sound middle-of-the-road played by any other band, but Moya and the band’s rich vocals save it from becoming hum-drum. (This track and ‘Live And Learn’ are probably the cheesiest songs on the whole album, but I love them, and would name them as guilty pleasure songs – but I don’t feel guilty in the least for loving ’em!)
Clannad knows ‘epic.’ They do it really well. ‘White Fool’ is no exception, and I’d like to declare here and now that this is a classic track. Or at least, it should be. It’s another mini-movie of a song with its great visual lyrics and dramatic instrumentation. The guest vocals of Steve Perry (of Journey) actually work well here and he handles the Gaelic phrases better than you’d think. Given 1980s artists’ tendency to release 12″ mixes of songs, it would have been nice to have heard this song in an extended format.
Another guest vocalist (Bruce Hornsby, who I know sod all about, so check him out on Wikipedia) shows up for a song that has the potential to be treacly – it’s ballad-y and is titled ‘Something To Believe In’, pretty syrupy elements! – but is not. It is, in fact, lovely, and actually quite sweetly melancholy.
We move on from potentially syrupy to most definitely cheesy with ‘Live And Learn.’ I don’t know quite why it feels cheesy. It might be the guitar work, or the saxophone, or something, but it just sounds sooooo 1980s. And yet, like Lister’s egg-chilli-and-chutney sandwich (‘all the ingredients are wrong‘), it works!
‘Many Roads’ is another ballad-ish track with Bruce Hornsby, and to be honest I prefer ‘Something To Believe In’. It’s a nice song, though, and very reminiscent of Clannad’s more traditional work. ‘Sirius’, on the other hand, is very unlike anything Clannad had done before – it’s synth-based and has a message. Talking of money and power dividing ‘us’ and how ‘our ocean’s a Red Sea, but you won’t change your ways’, this song’s environmental message is actually very apt today. Al Gore, eat your heart out! ;) ‘Sirius’ closes the album with more of that epic instrumentation and those enchanting Clannad vocals. A fitting end to a terribly underrated album!
If you’ve never heard Clannad before, don’t start with this album. It’s a great curio from their discography, but it’s not representative of their sound as a whole. (I’d start with Magical Ring to get a feel for ’em.) For fans looking to hear another side of Clannad, go and check this album out! :)