Better Than Britney!
They are, too, and not just because I have a soft spot for catchy pop in general and the Corrs in particular. And who cares if they write their own (catchy) songs (which they do)? Or play their own instruments (well) (which they also do, especially Caroline on drums)? And if being better than Britney means even less to you than it does to me, the Corrs are a genuinely good band even without being compared to lunkhead teenagers.
Both of their two big hits, “So Young” and “Breathless”, were deserved hits in the best escapist pop tradition. “So Young” was a romantic idealization about young rebellion at its most innocent, not angry or dangerous, but doe-eyed and dreamy. It was more Ruby and the Romantics’ “Our Day Will Come” than Alice Cooper’s “I’m Eighteen”, much more Sixpence None the Richer’s “Kiss Me” (another great pop song) than Pearl Jam’s “Jeremy”.
“Breathless” was even better. While retaining much of the seemingly innocent allure of “So Young”, the lyrics added a subtext of adult sexuality (“Go on, go on, leave me breathless”: doing what, I wonder?) that the foregrounded hook emphasized. And for vocal variation, Andrea sounded even sexier cooing, “Go on, go on” here than she did chanting, “yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah” in the former single. It was a delicate balancing act presenting the male fantasy of being seduced by an innocent-but-willing Andrea Corr without tipping over into anything vaguely sexist, tasteless, or pornographic (though that, too, could have had its charms, e.g. Prince’s “Head”), but the Corrs pulled it off. With all that going for it, “Breathless” was arguably as classic a single as “Sugar, Sugar” by the Archies, another song that also had escapism, young love, and some serious sexiness going for it.
And now they’re back with a new album and “Summer Sunlight”, the first single. For those keeping track, Andrea’s persona has matured from the misty-eyed chanteuse of “So Young” to the ingenue of “Breathless” to, now, a woman who finds solace in coffeehouse flings: “In coffee city, we borrowed heaven / Don’t give it back, I’ve never felt so wanted / Are you taking me home?” And, in contrast to the previous singles, she’s put her new romance in the context of the outside world and its tendency to talk about such things: “In the heat of summer sunshine / I’ll kiss you, and nobody needs to know”. And, ahem, is no less sexy for her new—thankfully world-weariness-free—maturity. It’s also got the most rock-like chorus riff of any of their hits and, though “Breathless” is better, it might be as good as “So Young” and, moreover, at least for now, I’ll be listening to “Summer Sunlight” rather than either of the two previous hits.
Okay, so the Corrs bring the hits. And, with three preternaturally luscious sisters in the same band, they certainly bring the looks. But besides even that last (er, in addition to that last?), the Corrs are good for more than a few singles every few years because their songs, singles or not, are of a piece, giving their not-great albums nonetheless enough theme and unity to carry the listener over those patches when the steely, shiny hooks don’t. After all, if all you want from music is a collection of meaningless-but-catchy hooks, you can get that anytime, anywhere, all lined up one after the other and all for free (It’s called Top 40 radio). Finally, after the mind becomes immune to the mathematical perfection of purely catchy beats and melodies, it’s still thematic unity that keeps the attention.
And, the Corrs have that, too. If their best singles have lyrically been about the escapism that their pop visions of love actually offer (they know where their strengths lie, obviously), their lesser album tracks have expanded that vision with more subdued meditations on loneliness. Not profound, no, but also not unconvincing: genuinely wistful-sad, not maudlin-pretend-sad. The best of these tracks even managed to capture realistic everyday lonliness (as opposed to the Titanic torment of a Prometheus) with sympathy, accuracy, and not a trace of self-pity (check out “Somebody for Someone” from In Blue). If high art is often about examining the life of the particular Artiste, “low” art (including popular pop like the Corrs, but excluding pop-by-convention-not-accessibility-or-popularity like the Cowboy Junkies) is often about the artist voicing the thoughts of the masses. And though the Corrs accomplish that with the fully realized depth of the Pet Shop Boys, they do do it with a lot more taste and accuracy and overall appeal than Christina Aguilera’s private-ambition-as-universal-feminism ploys.
Sure, you’ll want to get the album for the first single that’s also the first album track (as it was with the last album—told you they know their strengths). But if you stick around for the rest of the album, you’ll find more vignettes of loss and coping (as opposed to last album’s vignettes of loneliness and coping) that add depth to the catchy single and are often very catchy in and of themselves (“Long Night”, “Even If”, the surprisingly elegiac “Angel”). Song-for-song, I’d pick In Blue over this latest. And there are, of course, lots of better albums that you can get. Still, relatively few of those albums are current albums by artists as purely pop as—but this much better than—Britney.
// Notes from the Road
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