Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Fionn Regan - "The Shadow of an Empire" album review

Fionn Regan
‘The Shadow of an Empire’

WHEN BOB Dylan abruptly decided to leave his folk roots behind in 1965 and ‘go electric’, he caused a massive kerfuffle that threatened to overshadow his career.
The very fact that Dylan is mentioned in the first line of a Fionn Regan review should be an indication of the Irishman’s qualities.
It is unlikely that the introspective Regan will be villified as Dylan was for his decision to change tack in musical styles, but there is a correlation between the artists that does not end with their genre-confounding abilities.
The Bray man returns to shelves with his much anticipated follow-up to 2006 debut ‘The End of History’, a Mercury Music Prize nominated album - a rare feat for an Irish artist.
That album was greeted with critical acclaim - especially, crucially, among the fickle UK music media - and was a gentle, if innovative, folksy-blues offering, featuring ditties like ITunes download ‘Put A Penny In The Slot’ and ‘Be Good or Be Gone’, which featured on several American television shows.
Regan spent much of the last four years on tour as a result of the success of his debut, but has not been resting on his laurels. He told us recently that he began working on a follow-up not long after ‘The End of..’ was released, and indeed, a full record made with Kings of Leon and Ray Lamontagne producer Ethan Johns, was scrapped before it saw the light of day.
Finally, thankfully, Regan has returned with the graceful and eye-opening ‘Shadow of an Empire’, which sees the erstwhile Bray man push the boundaries of his abilities and return with an electric swagger and punch that was unthinkable after his first record.
This is an incredibly visceral and visual record, personified particularly by Genocide Matinee, an off-kilter, up-tempo and dark offering, where Regan drawls “did they seal your lips with a molten vice-grip?”, and adds in the chorus - “the front row is reserved for the lunatic fringes / down at the genocide matinee”.
The superb Violent Demeanour stands at odds with that song, Regan allowing his voice to be the main instrument, before the introduction of a electric blues sound and polka beat takes the song to a different height.
The swaggering opener Protection Racket sets the tone of the album, all jangly guitars and Dylan-esque rhythms. But it is when Regan allows other influences to the fore that the album takes the listener to exciting places; the George Harrison-beat of House Detective, the Simon and Garfunkel harmonies of Little Nancy, the Neil Young inspired Lord Help My Poor Soul - by far the standout track on the album.
First single Catacombs is another standout moment, Regan’s drawl coupled with his soaring harmonies, a plethora of guitars backing him up - ‘you have a lot to learn and I have a lot to forget’.
It might take a while to filter into the public consciousness, but we feel this may become one of the defining Irish albums of our generation.
Who knows, it might be as influential as Dylan’s decision at Newport in 1965.
We hope so.
RATING *****

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