Review Summary: The folk-soul troubadour once again demonstrates his massive potential; unfortunately, again, it's only in small doses.
Though Addicted To Company (Part 1)
is Paddy Casey’s third full-length release with music giant Sony/BMG, he still largely remains one of Ireland’s best kept secrets; his last album, 2003’s Living
, has gone twelve times platinum and counting, but he’s never been able to duplicate the success in the more lucrative overseas markets- a similar obstacle to that faced by the likes of Xavier Rudd and John Butler in Australia and just about every major Canadian artist of the male affliction.
Casey’s career in music began straight out of school as a street performer in Ireland’s two busking metropolises, Dublin and Galway; there he was discovered by ex-Traffic bassist Muff Winwood, indulging in a rare mix of acoustic folk, Prince covers and contemporary pop tunes. This all-encompassing approach to music came to bear on his debut recording, 1998’s Amen (So Be It)
, a genre-bending exercise both flawed and captivating, matching jazz, reggae and hip hop music with his core sound, socially aware folk viewed through a prism of smooth classic soul. The prize cut on Amen (So Be It)
was ‘Sweet Suburban Sky,’ a seething, but level headed, protest song in the Dylan/Joan Baez mould; consisting of nothing more than acoustic guitar, vocals, and an echo that would appear to reflect the giant expanse of apathy, ‘Sweet Suburban Sky’ demonstrated that, beneath all of the ornamentation, Casey’s greatest asset was his empathy, his lyrical skill and the gentle sincerity of his singing voice.
Ever since, Casey has tended to shy away from this confessional style of writing; he’s shaved down many of the edgier aspects of his first record and adopted a more polished pop soul sound, augmented by elaborate, string-laden arrangements. This, in itself, isn’t a bad thing; what’s irritating is the frequency with which these additions paradoxically detract
from the character of the performance, making good, well-written songs sound bland and uninspired. Opener ‘Sound Barrier’ and ‘Become Apart’ are strong melodic tracks, but suffer under the weight of their own pomposity, the latter perplexingly picking up a ridiculous, overbearing tribal drumbeat half way through. Lead single ‘Addicted To Company’ fares better, benefiting from a more restrained approach and tasteful Bacharach-like jazz pop arrangement, while the only real problem with new single ‘You’ll Get By’ is Casey’s decision to double-track his entire vocal an octave below, a bored-sounding performance against which Ian Curtis would sound comparatively delirious were he not dead.
The best tracks are conveniently lumped together, inconveniently, in the middle of the running order. ‘City’ is a T. Rex-like stomper built on a heavy horn melody, and boasts a chorus of the mindlessly brilliant variety that could only work within the context of a glam rock song: “you're just another lonely soul walking round this rock n' roll... yeah!”
Yeah! ‘Not Out To Get You’ recalls Duke Special, or Paul McCartney at his silliest, a tale of a perfect lover gone insane murderer, a dramatic take on what’s assumed to be a more moderate real-life event, culminating with the line: “take your hands from round my throat and I will even get your coat… baby.”
‘Refugee’ is the most easily traversable bridge between ‘Sweet Suburban Sky’ and Addicted To Company (Part One)
; the lyrics, for once, are the main focus of the track, and they’re his best by some measure. Opening with percussive acoustic strumming (cleverly designed to sound like a bódhran, an Irish hand-held drum), before adding a superfluous but relatively unimposing string section, ‘Refugee’ has a hint of the classic American folk tale ‘Deportees.’ Casey sings: “I was born in a different time/in a world not run by machines/I am part of a time that is no more/except in my heart and in my dreams.”
For once on the album, Casey drops the ironically aloof attitude and actually sounds passionate; the closest he comes to replicating that spirit is during closing dud ‘U & I,’ when he brilliantly sums up the post 9/11 culture of fear with the lines, “these walls they've built to keep us well/they feel just like a prison cell.”
It’s quite possible for one or two songs on an album to sound so good that the surrounding tracks become substantially worse just by being there; ‘You’ll Get By,’ ‘Become Apart’ and ‘I Keep’ certainly sound better in isolation than they do on the album, but Addicted To Company (Part 1)
boasts some wholly autonomous stinkers too: ‘Leaving’ starts well with Donovan-like folk picking, but goes nowhere; ‘Tonight’ is a five minute muse on worry-induced insomnia, and it conveys the experience far too well, and completely unintentionally; while closer ‘U & I’ aims for grandiosity but comes across as trite, gospel choir or no gospel choir. With Addicted To Company (Part 1)
Paddy Casey once again demonstrates his massive potential; unfortunately, once again, he’s chosen to realise that potential only in small doses.