There’s something about being tipped to be ‘the next U2’ that really irks me. It’s not so much that it’s an honour dished out so often as to render it close to meaningless, nor that it’s such a vague statement that it could mean any number of things (it’s routinely applied to both any promising Irish band and any promising stadium rock act) but rather it annoys me that it carries an connotation that that’s actually a good thing.
You might as well tip the band to be the next Dave Dee, Dozy, Beaky, Mick & Tich.
In Ireland, it’s even more common than elsewhere because, as a nation, the pressure of living up to such a major name has so far yielded only one act with comparable success- the, err, Saw Doctors- so all and any breakout bands are immediately dubbed ‘the next U2’ in the uneasy hope that they respond well to the massive weight of a nation’s expectation.
Probably the first band to receive the so-called ‘Kiss of Adam Clayton’ were Dublin band Aslan, who in the spring of 1986 had a major hit with their self-produced demo single ‘This Is’, which eventually became the longest ever play-listed single in the country’s history. Signing to EMI, the band recorded their debut release Feel No Shame
in 1988. Then, on the morning ‘This Is’ was due to be released in the US, in the midst of a successful North American tour, the band fired frontman Christy Dignam. And the bubble burst. They reformed five years later, but by then their style of rock was long out of fashion, though their evolving sound has helped them consistently top the Irish charts in the meantime.
The Platinum Collection
is a three-disc retrospective, released in late 2005 to mark twenty-five years since the group began in earnest: Disc One is a collection of the band’s singles to date, Disc Two a compilation of the best b-sides from those singles and Disc Three collects thirteen rare tracks, ranging from early radio sessions in 1980 to recently recorded cover tunes.
The singles encompass the group’s four album releases to date, as well as the two most recent non-album singles (‘Shine a Light’ and ‘Fall on Me’) and as such provide a good indication of the band’s changing styles and fortunes; the early singles, ‘This Is’ and ‘Please Don’t Stop’ the pick of the bunch, are very much singles of their time with strong references to post-punk acts from the Smiths to Talking Heads, but with strong radio-friendly choruses that seem destined for the arena setting. After Dignam cleaned himself up, he returned to the fold with a more introspective and spiritual approach, culminating in singles like ‘Rainman’ (‘If I should lose my faith in God…’) and the smash radio hit ‘Crazy World’ (which borrows much from ‘This Is’, but is here contained in its inferior re-recorded format, losing the rock-based vitality of the original single).
Christy Dignam’s vocals are at once harsh and refined; he makes no effort to disguise his own strong, high-pitched accent, yet his classical training affords him a unique, semi-conversational style that recalls at times post-war crooners like Dean Martin and Elvis Presley (likely indirectly) as much as it’s informed by (his idol) David Bowie’s own half-talking approach. After the group reformed, Dignam took over backing vocal duties, replacing the group vocal choruses with delicate harmonies and counterpoints that bring to mind Gilmour-era Pink Floyd and, though the singer consistently denies it (‘everybody’s heard a Beatles song, but I’d rather listen to the Rolling Stones any day’- ‘Love Is All You Need’) a strong Beatles influence has crept in in recent years, particularly on the infectious single ‘She’s So Beautiful’, featuring a replica the unmistakeable Lennon/McCartney group chant with Sinéad O’Connor.
Instrumentally, the group’s long periods of studio inactivity (the self-imposed exile before ‘Waiting For This Madness To End’ in 2001 came close to equalling their five-year break-up) have allowed for just as striking a development. The Marr- and Bowie-influenced sound of ‘Feel No Shame’ gave way after the reunion to a sound that took in Britpop (Joe Jewell’s leads on Here Comes Lucy Jones
are strikingly similar in tone and source to those Noel Gallagher produced on the following year’s Be Here Now
- probably due to a shared Gilmour/Harrison influence) and even the Replacements (‘Lucy Jones Part 2’).
The b-sides and rarities discs are almost as interesting, though for completely different reasons. It’s unfortunate that the group never saw fit to release their authoritative cover of Pink Floyd’s ‘Wish You Were Here’ (the band’s collective favourite song) from the Made in Dublin
album, but the rich assortment of cover versions here contained affirms (as if listening to Disc One wasn’t enough) one’s notions that Aslan check all the right names: Bowie’s ‘Rock ‘N’ Roll Suicide’ and ‘5 Years’ were both released as b-sides, as well as Lou Reed’s ‘Caroline Says’, The Rolling Stone’s ‘Angie’ (again, authoritative) and John Lennon’s ‘Working Class Hero’, with only the latter track bordering upon ‘run of the mill’, the rest are thoroughly personalised.
Recently covered versions of Stevie Wonder’s ‘Living for the City’ and Tom Waits’ ‘Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis’ are the most surprising cuts on the collection, and while the latter suffers the perennial ailment of most Waits covers, that it sounds too thin and polished in relation to the original, ‘Living for the City’ re-invents the classic tune and places it in a ‘Gimmie Shelter’-era Stones mould, making it arguable the strongest non-single in the collection. The remainder of the set is a mixture of inadvisable remixes (‘Crazy World (Remix ’98’) sounds particularly forced), decent (‘Run Like the Devil’) to essential (‘Broken Soul’) originals and a rather interesting trio of 2FM sessions under the Meelah XVIII moniker in 1980, featuring three of Aslan’s five eventual members.
Those looking simply for an Aslan hits collection would do better to pick up Shame About Lucy Moonhead – The Best of Aslan
, which features all of the singles up to Here Comes Lucy Jones
as well as the best non-single tracks, including the beautiful rock ballad ‘Chains’, however despite the haphazard nature of The Platinum Collection
(and the price, of course), it’s an overall more satisfying package, even if the a-sides collection is bound to receive ninety per-cent of the plays.