From what Ive heard about The Corrs most recent albums, Talk on Corners and In Blue, this Irish foursome has been effortlessly reduced from a well-respected, romantically inclined Celtic rock act to a faceless girl group ready to storm the radio waves in the 21st century just the way all the other girls are doing it. I wasnt well-informed about mainstream music in 1995 when the group struck gold with their debut, Forgiven, Not Forgotten, but if I had been, I would have rushed right out and bought it from reading reviews alone. Sibling (or otherwise related) musical acts are often known for possessing an uncanny chemistry, an ability to feel each others vibes and create something distinct but cohesive. My favorite example of this would be the one-album wonder alt-rock trio Chasing Furies, but a more mainstream example would be Evan and Jaron, or even perhaps the brotherhood that heads up Collective Soul. Which is not to say that The Corrs sound like any of these acts, but that sibling chemistry, that aura of four kids just having fun together and yet creating something mature and artistic, is definitely present on their debut album. These three sisters and a brother have likely experienced a lot of loss and gain together, and perhaps watched each other fall in and out of love on numerous occasions. While their lyrical focus seems to have not changed much in the last five years, their musical style seems to have degenerated into a much less exotic and challenging form of easily-digestible pop, and thats a darn shame. I got this album for my birthday (after trying out this one and Talk on Corners on Napster, and finding myself rather bored with the latter), and over this past week, Ive pulled it out (at the advice of a good friend who tells me that love songs can be wonderfully therapeutic to fight the despondency one feels after a breakup) and found myself just soaking in its beauty time and time again. Here the sibling quartet unleashes an ethereal blend of haunting piano, longing violin, wistful flute and whistle, and whatever else might add to the Irish mood, backing it all up with strong but playful drums, decidedly electric guitar chords, and some of the most heavenly female harmonies this side of Wilson Phillips. Throw in a few classy Celtic instrumentals to keep the love-themed songs from seeming too numerous, and youve got a hit formula on your hands. I almost hate them for selling out so soon after creating an album that showed so much promise. But lets pretend those other albums never happened, shall we?
Erin Shore (Traditional Intro) / Forgiven, Not Forgotten
All alone, staring on
Watching her life go by
When her days are grey and her nights are black
Different shades of mundane
Leading off with a very short instrumental track, drawing the listener into the album with the first of many violin solos backed by a light piano, the music smoothly but unexpectedly transitions into the title song, a floating, piano-driven piece that seems desperate to bring up repressed emotions within the listener memories of lost love. Caroline Corrs steady drums and Sharon Corrs weaving violin playing provide the musical backdrop for this story about a lonely woman who remembers an old flame, someone who hurt her badly but whose name and face she cannot erase from her memory. The repetitive chorus sends her message out to this strange man over and over: Youre forgiven, not forgotten. Time has healed the wounds, and she cannot think to do anything but embark on a lifelong search to find him again. Had The Corrs chosen to do a concept album, this would have made for the beginning of a captivating story. As it stands, this is probably the most specific and compelling love song on the project.
I will never set you free
No more, no more a life without meaning
You and I will fly away to love
Wow. To hear Forgiven, Not Forgotten change over into this track is to experience one of the greatest transitions ever burned onto a CD. Just as things quiet down and Andrea sings her final Youre not forgotten, Carolines drums kick in with a bouncier rhythm, joined more celebrative violin, and weve got an upbeat and richly played radio hit waiting to happen (though I cant recall if it ever did happen). Perhaps this song is meant to build from the story laid down in the previous one; I cant tell. The harmonies are so lovely that the overall sadness of the song catches you off guard the first few times through. Basically, Andrea seems to want a man to come back to her who has left her for someone else. She resigns herself to the understanding that only Heaven knows why he left, and frankly its never been so compelling to hear someone sing Sadness fills my life as when Andrea Corr does it during the bridge, backed by a lilting acoustic guitar. Man, theres just so much going on in this song, including a killer key change as the bridge morphs back into the final chorus. It is a little strange to hear such lovely voices sing a line like Send her away to her grieving, obviously expressing contempt for the other woman in the equation. But well overlook that little glitch. Its definitely an understandable feeling for a jilted lover to have, and The Corrs pull it off with much more of a compelling charm than Alanis Morissette or even Dido.
Along with the Girls
A short instrumental emerges as Heaven Knows fades out, featuring a beautifully intertwined violin and whistle performing a very traditional-sounding Irish tune. Other than a few notable ones, most of these instrumentals are just interludes, but theyre lovely interludes for sure, and they make the album feel deceptively longer than it is.
What we had was fantasy, dreams and photographs
Hypnotic melodies could sing our song
A comfortable rhythm in a comfortless room
The guitar and drums are more predominant from the get-go on this track Jim Corr, the lone male in the band, knows how to inject just the right amount of testosterone into many of these songs without overpowering his sisters sweetness. This and the inclusion of the flutes, violins, etc. is what kept the band from degenerating into typical pop for most of this album. As Andrea sings here, she knows that the lost love is too far gone to resurrect, and she points out all of the old memories that only pour salt on the wound of the passion that she no longer feels for this person. Though she knows it hurts him to let go, she assures him that Someday youll forget me. Man, that sounds almost harsh, but once again, the sisters are so sweet and compelling that youd think guys from around the world would line up just to have their hearts broken by one of these lasses. Caroline and Sharon seem to play the role of Andreas friends helping her deal with the breakup, asking her How do you know the passions gone?, to which she responds, I know I just dont feel it. Not an idea I completely agree with, but when theyve won me over with the music, I cant really argue.
Say it's true, there's nothing like me and you
I'm not alone, tell me you feel it too
Heres where any sense of a linear love story ends, because this song is so sweet and lovey-dovey that its almost criminal. This was the huge hit that propelled The Corrs into worldwide stardom with its lovely 3/4 beat, rich violin playing and harmonies, and its simple lyrics of total devotion to a love that will last forever. I had heard this one many times in its cycle as a hit single without realizing who it was, and so it brought back fond memories when I downloaded it, and it became the obvious favorite simply due to that vague sense of nostalgia that it invoked in me. The quieter verses give way to some lovely piano in the background (I believe Jim handles the keyboards as well as the guitars, and it shows us a wonderfully sensitive side of his otherwise aggressive musical persona), and the lyrics are so compelling, and yes, even sexual (Close the door, lay down upon the floor/And by candlelight, make love to me through the night is the one line Im thinking of, though the entire song is wonderfully seductive), and I cant say much else other than that it deserved to be such a big hit.
The Right Time
Makin' music in the morning, laughter's light
Creativity touches in full flight
This bouncy, almost reggae-styled number gives us a taste of the bands more playful side, and unfortunately, the more "pop" direction that they dove into after this album. Dont get me wrong I love this track, for all of its unabashed happiness in just celebrating a simple once in a lifetime moment of being in love. The melody is lovely and original, the girls give it all theyve got on vocals, and Sharons violin meanders expertly throughout the whole song. The rhythm always gets my head bobbing, even though I know that this is one of the cheesier, less artistic tracks on the album.
The Minstrel Boy
Here we have the first of two consecutive instrumentals. The mood is slow, quiet and reverent, taking us back in time to the medieval Irish countryside (at least thats what I envision) as Sharons violin solemnly plays. The siblings classical sensibilities definitely suit them well on the instrumental tracks its actually quite encouraging to see that a band can so clearly understand the borders between such divergent elements as classical and pop, and still somehow weave them together.
Toss the Feathers
As Sharon draws out the last note of The Minstrel Boy, a tin whistle jumps right in, launching the band into a lively Irish jig. While the whistle and violin are quite prominent here, this track gives Jim and Caroline a chance to strut their stuff, always staying in time with the others and never venturing off into wandering solos or anything like that, but still making their presence known as they jam back and forth while the other two stay their course. Its a great piece, managing to worm its way into my list of favorite tracks on the album without so much as a single word. I guess you could say theyre gettin jig-gy wit it. (Ba-dum-bum.)
Love to Love You
God if I had known the pain I'd make you feel,
I would have stopped this thought of us, and turned upon my heel
Here is where the album begins to drag a bit for me. After the high energy of Toss the Feathers, the more relaxed, adult contemporary pop pace of this song leaves me wanting. The subject matter is good stuff Andrea is addressing a man who has fallen hopelessly in love with her, knowing that she doesnt return his feelings (even though she wishes she did), and knowing that she cant fake it she has to be honest and say it just couldnt work out between them. She realized that she may have toyed with his heart at times, but she deeply regrets any pain she caused him (take a hint, Britney, theres no Oops about it!), and she prays to God to break down the pillars of uneasiness between them. As I mentioned, the tempo brings down my interest in this song, though the violin does its best to ensure a lovely tune. The lyrics, while compelling, are awkward at times, since the pillar analogy is never really explored, and the chorus I would love to love you like you do me could perhaps have been worded better.
It's so hard to understand, and often we are blind
But if truth were an ocean, would it fit in the pool of a human mind?
Kicking in with another strong drum and guitar intro, this upbeat tune takes a strong right turn out of the land of romance and into the realm of religion. Despite a few notable flaws (there are a few cheesy elements that worm their way into the back half of the album), I was amazed, as I always am, to hear a secular band give such an honest message portraying faith in such a positive light. Here, Andrea shrugs off the human tendency to explain and scientifically prove everything, knowing that there is a deeper longing inside that evangelists, scientologists, and others I wont mention are all reaching out for in their own way (though she seems to indicate that they might sometimes be a bit misguided, but well leave that alone). Though a few spoken words here and there are mildly annoying (especially when the girls chant I think, therefore I am during the bridge, this song is still a winner, using their romantic charm to call on the secret life, the faithful side that we never talk about with each other, and acknowledging that the smartest of us still dont know the half of the wonder that is to be found in this holy, mystical quest we call faith. See Lee Ann Womacks I Hope You Dance for another excellent treatment of this subject.
Here we have another short instrumental along the same lines as Along with the Girls. To be honest, I sometimes confuse the two when I have the CD on random. I do find myself wishing that these instrumentals were longer and meatier, but this one still creates a nice bridge between two great songs.
Where are you going? And what are you thinking at all?
Your eyes show nothing more, than a dazed oblivion
The instrumentation backs away from the traditional Celtic stuff here I dont notice any violins or whistles on this track but the mesmerizing piano playing throughout the whole song is so lovely that I just dont care. Also in 3/4 time, this might be seen by some as a rehash of "Runaway", but the subject matter is decidedly different, not as sugary and happy. I cant even tell if its a love song for sure. As the piano circles around, Andrea sings to a person whom she longs to know better, wanting desperately to see behind a possibly rough or superficial exterior, believing there is a lovely person to be found on the inside. The lyrics do get a tad repetitive, with the word Closer being sung over and over, adding to the circular feel of the song, but again, its so pretty that I couldnt care less. Okay, maybe one thing does bug me the way closer is enunciated makes it sound like Andreas singing the words clothes hair. I wouldnt even think to mention that if she didnt sing it so darn many times. But its still a great tune, and Jim shows us once again that his years of classical piano training have paid off.
Leave Me Alone
One day you will see, another side of me
My life I command, it's not the way that you planned
Alright, Ill get my biggest complaint about this album out of the way
why is this song even here? I mean, its a decent tune and I guess it deserved to go somewhere, and its upbeat and fun, but Leave me alone is such a harsh note to end on! (There is one track after this, but its instrumental, so this is the last sentiment that we get stuck with after listening to the CD.) Here, more forceful guitar and piano licks are incorporated into a more standard pop/rock tune (though Sharon gets in her usual fun solo in the middle), and Andrea sings about her desperate need to be let go. Apparently the guy isnt getting it she doesnt have feelings for him, and shes no longer as patient and understanding as she was in Love to Love You. She just wants him to get lost! Is this the same girl that sang I will never set you free? It just kills off the loving feelings that the rest of the album fostered. Make no mistake this is still a five star album in my book, but this track would have knocked it down to four if not for The Corrs usual charm and musical sensibility.
The fragment of a song that opened the album now returns in its full glory to close out the CD. Building on the same melody line, this tribute to the siblings native Ireland is a wonderful fantasy suite, led once again by the violin, but flowing through several different themes before returning to its familiar refrain, including a driving, almost tribal drum solo from Caroline before the rest of the groups joins in for the home stretch. Take a bow, ladies (and gentleman). You deserve it for a heartfelt, captivating performance.
As Ive mentioned, Forgiven has its flaws, but for a pop album, this blows most of the rest of the genre out of the water. The Corrs tried new things as they became more familiar with the music business, but none of it was as captivating as the Celtic pop they perfected here. I like a fun pop/rock album as much as the next guy, but the albums that transport me to another place altogether are few and far between. The more reflective, instrumental moments here remind me of none other than the brilliant British prog-rock band Iona if youre looking for something like this, but less poppy and more spiritual and ethereal, you simply must check out Iona! If youre looking for a great collection of otherworldly, mostly romantic tunes, then The Corrs debut would make a fine candidate whether you need it to fuel the fires of a blossoming romance, or to help you get over a romance that has died.
TRACK REVIEW SUMMARY
Excellent: Runaway, Forgiven Not Forgotten, Heaven Knows, Toss the Feathers, Closer, Erin Shore
Good: Someday, The Right Time, The Minstrel Boy, Secret Life, instrumental interludes
Decent: Leave Me Alone
Weak: Love to Love You
Strongest Links: Runaway, Forgiven Not Forgotten, Closer, Toss the Feathers
Weakest Links: Leave Me Alone, Love to Love You
Andrea Corr: Lead Vocals, Tin Whistle
Sharon Corr: Violin, Vocals
Caroline Corr: Drums, Bodhran, Vocals
Jim Corr: Keyboards, Guitar, Vocals