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Lisa Hannigan - Travelling a different path,
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This review is from: Passenger (Audio CD)
Those expecting a repeat of Lisa Hannigan's 2009 delightful treat "Sea Saw" will find this album on first listen a bit of a puzzle. Ironically very much like her former musical partner Damien Rice, Hannigan managed to produce a debut so deeply adored by its many admirers that it will cast a very large shadow on any of her subsequent output and it is a high benchmark that she has set herself. It is perhaps because of this that Hannigan's has wisely decided to move away in part from an exclusive focus on sprightly heartfelt balladry and the rather derogatory label of plinky plonk rock into something harder and with a much darker hue on this sophomore album. That's not to say that this album will disappoint for there is plenty on here to demand your rapt attention, The key point of this album is that it accurately fits the old football cliché of being a game of two halves with a largely rock orientated first part and a gentle acoustic return journey. Opener "Home" for example starts off sounding like a big bold Coldplay anthem with its pounding piano and familiar chords. Yet when Hannigan's breathy vocals kick in the song becomes a powerful vehicle with lyrics using the image of "melting snow" to carry its central message. It is perhaps "A Sail" the next song up that is the biggest departure on the album seeming to draw inspiration from either the Pixies or P.J. Harvey and starting with a dark sounding bass line. To fair it works well as does the more jazzy "Knots" which spookily echoes the styles on Laura Marling latest and finishes with a excellent crescendo of strings, where her band make a good old fashioned raucous racket.
All well thus far but then some problems creep in during the albums mid section. Of the next two songs "What'll I do" is probably intended as this album's "I don't know" but is frankly a bit light and twee (the more unkind would say plinky plonky). Equally the duet with Ray LaMontagne "O Sleep" lacks a really strong melody and just because both artists sing well it doesn't make it good. Much better is "Paper house" which will probably grow on further listens. Things are fully put to right however with the shimmering "Little Bird" where you will possibly hear one of Hannigan's greatest self penned songs to date and vocals to accompany it. This song is a thing of true beauty and an absolute standout. The title track equally is a little banjo driven charmer while "Safe travels (don't die)" is a melancholy lament whose lyrics displays that neurosis about a persons safety that sees all everyday hazards as a mortal threat, As Hannigan warns "Don't swallow bleach/out on Sandymount beach/I'm not sure I'd reach you in time my boy/Please don't bungee jump/or ignore a strange lump/and a gasoline pump's not a toy. The final song "Nowhere to go" admittedly does have a slight Damien Rice feel but it's a real wonder and is destined to loved as a beautiful slice of Irish tinged folk.
Credit is due to Lisa Hannigan since there was easy money in the bank if "Passenger" had turned out to be little more than Sea Saw part 2. This album has its faults but as Hannigan seeks to develop and grow not all things will work. That said "Passenger" again shows her to be an artist with a distinctive voice, who is never less than intriguing and at her best truly inspired.