Produced by Andy Bradfield & Avril Mackintosh
From the very start of album opener Solas it's clear this is very different from all previous Answer albums. It is dark, slow of build-up, has dense lyrics, with a genuine Irish, Celtic folk feel to it for the first time.
Strangely for such a dark vibe the meaning of the word "solas" is "light". Perhaps it suggests that despite being in darkness we should always look for light. The opening lyric asks the question "Do you ever stop to wonder the reason you are here?" Due to events happening recently in singer Cormac Neeson's life, with his child being born very premature and watching as his little one fought for life through all the problems that an early birth can cause, it seems he has re-evaluated his views and feelings, and this album is what has come from these difficult and distressing times. They say real art comes from suffering, and if this is correct then this is true art. It is personal, emotional and true to life. Yet despite the pain and anguish and the feeling of dread that no doubt he and his friends and bandmates felt, there are some joyous moments on the album, no better than the excellent Battle Cry, which mixes up rock and folk with a jaunty sound and a chorus in Gaelic (recalling Runrig, although there are some difference between Scottish and Irish Gaelic, there is a sound which is inherent in both) which sounds wonderfully uplifting - the literal translation is "This is the day my love arrives" - as well as infectious.
In This Land, one of the few tracks with a guitar solo, looks at home (Northern Ireland), the good and the bad, a land that at times "makes no sense", but is still "close to heaven", and gives mention of some of the heroes of the area, including the late great Rory Gallagher. There is a sense of Ry Cooder along with Thin Lizzy at their most atmospheric on Being Begotten - a sort of the Irish version of swamp blues music. The plea "why don't you nail me to my cross" and "don't know the day, don't know the year" is almost suggesting that he wants to take all the pain from his child, confusion reigns, yet he is fully aware of the hurt. The closing build with strange chanting is almost hypnotic, making the track powerful, brooding, menacing, and moving, all at the same time. This is possibly the best track the band have ever recorded.
Left Me Standing is the type of song that The Gaslight Anthem do so well - upbeat, in your face, simple, infectious, and the sort of song that screams to be played live. Another track that has a live feel is the slowish blues stomp of Demon Driven Man, with some nice drumming and guitar work. Finishing with a very reflective piece in Tunnel, where things are so difficult it's almost impossible to see the light, the "Solas", and in so doing it brings the album right back to the start again. No-one deserves tribulation and suffering, but in those dark times there is opportunity to contemplate and to fight back into light, into happier times, and of course these things can happen to anyone at any point. A very fitting conclusion.
This is a very different The Answer to what has gone before. Circumstances have changed the way they express themselves in their words and music at this point. Lyrically this is the most heartfelt and emotional of their work, and musically they have allowed themselves to go with what they feel expresses their mood at the moment. That is no bad thing as it makes for a very genuine listen. There are a couple of tracks that have too much of a U2 feel to them (Untrue Colour being the worst offender) which slightly let the album down, but not enough to spoil a very interesting and enjoyable album.
“ the most heartfelt and emotional of their work ”
Tracklist: Solas / Beautiful World / Battle Cry / Untrue Colour / In This Land / Thief of Light / Being Begotten / Left Me Standing / Demon Driven Man / Real Life Dreamers / Tunnel
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