Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Irish examiner

With the exception of U2 and a clutch of vapid boy bands, it has been many a year since an Irish act has topped the UK album charts, but a relative unknown group not only managed the feat, but actually managed to hold onto the spot, beating off competition from such celebrated names as Abba, Coldplay and Welsh soul star, Duffy.

Almost as impressive has been their assault on the singles chart, with two of their tracks currently holding fast in the Top 40, and receiving heavy rotation on virtually every major radio station in Europe.

Dublin band, The Script, are currently riding a wave of publicity and popularity that genuinely has them in poll position to be the proverbial "next big thing", with one of the members of the band recently revealing that they currently sit third on Sony Record's priority list behind Leona Lewis and Rihanna.

So why are their achievements currently greeted with only tepid praise in their home country?
Is it a case of our noted sense of begrudgery or does it have something to do with the old adage, which states that if things seem to good to be true, it's usually because they are.

The seeds of the Scripts' beginnings were sown when teenager, Mark Sheehan met fellow Dubliner, Danny O'Donaghue, when the former advertised some studio equipment that he had for sale.

What began as a simple transaction turned into a blossoming friendship, when the two realized just how committed each was to a career in music.

Teaming up in the area around Guinness' famed, St. James' Gate brewery, the pair were looking to escape their inner city surrounds according to Sheehan, who once recalled: "I'm not trying to romanticize it, where we grew up was a s**t hole, it was stealing cars, all the usual b*****ks, but music gave me a sense that I could break away. I know it sounds like a cliché, but to me, as a kid, that was my way out."

Although such comments can hardly be construed as 'romanticizing' his hometown, they might explain why certain people in Dublin have a hard time supporting the act, and while music did see them achieve their desired escape, the manner by which they achieved it might also offer another clue as to why the musical fraternity of Ireland is a wee bit skeptical of their explosive success.

In 1996, both became part of the Louis Walsh-managed boy band, Mytown, and were quickly signed up by Universal Records, who were eager to cash in on the burgeoning public demand for acts more renowned for their looks than their talent.

Although the four-piece were undoubtedly guilty of crimes against music (even going so far as to cover Wham! track Everything She Wants), all the members could play their own instruments and choreographed all their own dance moves, which certainly puts them ahead of the likes of Westlife and Boyzone, if only just.

The euphoria only continued when the band was sent to the US to begin work on their debut album with acclaimed producer, Teddy Riley (Blackstreet), although the fickle nature of the world of pop soon became painfully apparent when label suits began to grumble that the album was too pop for the US and too R'n'B for European audiences.

Like it or not, this band is struggling to shake their 'manufactured' label and too many of their statements still sound contrived.

Ultimately, the decision was made to cut Mytown loose and the dream was over before it ever truly started.

The silver lining on this particular cloud was the fact that the band had made many contacts in the US and even used their advance money wisely, so O'Donaghue and Sheehan decided to remain on in the States in an effort to salvage something from their career.

Over the next several years, they would chart a meandering course as they gamely tried every which way they could to get back in the game, first settling in Orlando and then leasing an apartment on Venice Beach, where they built a tiny studio and began working with new bands, in addition to remixing tracks.

They even managed to spoof their way in to a studio run by Pharrell Williams and his Neptunes associates, after the Irish pair simply called to the studio door and asked if they could help on a voluntary basis.

Soon they were learning at the feet of a master and though they were living a "hand to mouth existence", their ascetic life was worth it, as they generated more contacts and absorbed all they could about cutting-edge production techniques.

Soon they were remixing tracks for names like Justin Timberlake and Britney Spears, in addition to working on a retainer for Jive Records, where they assisted new acts in developing their sound.

It appeared that their career in the US was ready to take off once again but fate dealt the band another rough hand, when Sheehan's mother was diagnosed with cancer and the pair traveled to Ireland, in order for him to spend some time with her.

Upon returning to native sod, the duo continued to work with new Irish acts from a home-built studio, but they had also begun to entertain notions of performing again, inspired in many ways by Glen Power, a multi-instrumentalist who the two men met in Dublin.

Soon the band began writing at a furious pace and with the makings of an album put together, they began canvassing interested parties and one of their US contacts put them in touch with Sony/BMG print, Phonogenic, who signed the band earlier this year and advised them to move to the UK.

In contrast to their initial move all those years before, this excursion would have a much happier ending.

In April, the band released debut single, We Cry, which went top 15 in the UK charts, and followed it up with The Man Who Couldn't Be Moved, which secured the band their first top 10 hit.

Even more impressively, their eponymous debut album entered the charts at #1 upon its release two weeks ago, and it continues to sit there at the time of going to press.

So where are the love and glowing commendations?

Undoubtedly, the roots of the reluctance of some music fans to embrace this band must lie in its dubious pop past, and their propensity for referring to their music as "Irish Soul" sounds like something they have been told to say by a label.

Like it or not, this band is struggling to shake their 'manufactured' label and too many of their statements still sound contrived.

Consider O'Donaghue's recent declaration that: "These songs have lifted us through the clouds in life and relationships. It's a great feeling when fans say they can relate to them. I've had guys say they gave our song to their girlfriends as it helped them explain what they wanted to say."

Not any guys I know, but it is becoming patently obvious that the fairer sex do not have the same reticence about loving the Script.

One only has to look at the teeming mass of females at their gigs, hear their pensive lyrics or listen to their sound (which could concisely be described as Maroon 5 meets R'n'B with a dash of The Fray) to realize that The Script are not really out to catch the attention of those with two chromosomes and more power to them.

Make no mistake, some of the members of The Script may have failed the first time out but this time, they are going to be huge.

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