When you hear the lyrics of ‘More Time’, the first track on Eileen Gogan And The Instructions new album, ‘Under Moving Skies’, you know it’s by an Irish artist. Sure, you might argue, Eileen Gogan’s very name is a bit of a give away, but I think it goes further than that. There’s a certain melancholy to Irish music; you’ll hear it in The Cranberries, The Corrs, U2 – even more recent Irish artists such as Inhaler, Jedward, Columbia Mills, and Robert O’Connor have it. Kodaline has it. And Eileen Gogan has it in spades.
That’s not to say that the ten track album is a hard listen. On the contrary – just like the music of the other artists mentioned, the album is compelling and passionate, and you are drawn in by the beguiling songs, which feel autobiographical and poignant.
‘Under Moving Skies’ is the follow up to Gogan’s debut, ‘The Spirit Of Oberlin’, and it certainly doesn’t fall into the category of the difficult second album, by any means.
Opening track, ‘More Time’, which was released in mid-May, is a sober, moving track, which as we said previously, reminded us of The Corrs, and The Cranberries. Altogether it’s one of those albums that sucks you right in, and had this reviewer listening for pleasure as much as for critical review. And that, to my way of thinking, is the hallmark of a great album.
It’s so easy to get swept up in the gorgeousness of the vocals and music; but then you dig deeper into the lyrics, and realise that there’s a lot of social commentary in there, such as ‘Echo’, with lines such as “teach her to kick against the pricks” “don’t submit”; advice to raise girls with their own opinions and not simply accept that their place is always in the kitchen, tending the hearth, raising countless children, at the mercy of a husband.
And this is what I really like about Eileen Gogan. She’s not afraid to call a spade a spade, yet at the same time she does it with a subtlety that sweeps you up and pulls you in and before you realise it you’re singing along with lines like, “The gods conspire brimstone or fire/ and every priest is a liar”.
‘Under Moving Skies’ plays out like a commentary on an Ireland that is rapidly changing, but still has a way to go. This is yet another thing in common with The Cranberries, and I’m further reminded of the books of Maeve Binchy, with so many women brought up to treat their husbands as near gods, yet champing at the bit in a modern world that says they have brains of their own. There’s also more contemporary equivalents in Emer McLysaght and Sarah Breen’s novel, ‘Oh My God What A Complete Aisling’, and the Irish Dramedy, ‘Can’t Cope, Won’t Cope’, both of which follow the lives of Irish women caught up in the fight between wanting to make a life for themselves and the nagging thought that they shouldn’t kick against the pricks, because after all, “it’s always been done this way.”
Gogan’s storytelling style, and not to mention her voice, has seen comparisons drawn with Sandy Denny, and Kirsty MacColl, but there is a poignance to her lyrics and a sadness in her voice that goes way beyond these. ‘Sweet Alice’ is just one song on the album that will make you want to cry hard tears as Gogan recounts the story of Alice: we’re introduced to her as a spectral figure, but as the song goes on, we realise that something tragic had befallen Sweet Alice. “She falls…again and again…like the rain, not a thought for the pain.” What happened to Sweet Alice? Was she murdered? Did she commit suicide? What happened to the girl full of life?
‘Malibu Stacey’ made me smile, as during the lockdown I’ve been bingeing The Simpsons right from the start, and it reminded me of the episode where Lisa talks the creator of the original Malibu Stacey out of retirement, and together they develop a doll with all the qualities a modern, forward thinking, feminist young woman should aspire to. And Gogan is clearly familiar with the story, as she sings of the girls with their lip-gloss making the gawking boys – who just want sex – to wait and wait – “we’ve got time”. The girls are thinking of their futures, they’re not quite prepared to give in…just yet.
Final song, ‘Celebration’, showcases Gogan’s voice a cappella, singing what appears to be a traditional song, but it’s actually a poem by Irish poet, Nuala Ní Dhomhnaill, set to music. Ní Dhomhnaill’s poetry takes the rich traditions of Irish folklore and mythology, and combines them with contemporary themes of femininity, sexuality, and culture. Very fitting indeed for this album, which challenges ideas of womanhood, and the perfect end song.
‘Under Moving Skies’ is a deeply moving album, which deserves a place in everyone’s collection. You will be entranced, you will be challenged, you will want to hit replay many times, and you’ll come away thinking differently.