Armed with clean, tight rock and soul rhythms, Paddy Casey coasts on the waves of pleasant, studio-perfect pop.
It's hard to know what to expect from Paddy Casey judging by the cover of Addicted to Company. Casey's unshaven visage stares off into space. The black and white tint obscures the rosy-cheeked glow of his Irish blood. He could be any guy you might pass on the street. In short, there are no clues of the clean, tight rhythms of pop, rock, and soul that are the heart of Addicted to Company. Those judging only by the cover are cleary missing out, for there's a lot to like here.
After achieving multi-platinum success in Ireland with Living (2004), the Dublin-based singer-songwriter teamed with producers George Drakoulias (Tom Petty, Then Black Crowes, Tift Merritt) and Pat Donne for 13 songs, and one hidden track, that are as good as any contemporary pop you're likely to hear in 2008. Casey's lyrics are divided fairly equally into categories of politics and romance. In contrast to his somewhat gruff appearance, his voice is a gentle instrument and he sings with an earnest heart. While not a perfect vocalist (there are moments where the melody falls somewhat flat), he always sounds honest.
Songwriting and playing are more his strengths. The album's opener "Sound Barrier" grabs immediately. "Are you listening? Can you hear them?", he sings before the song locks into a soulful groove. The rhythm and melody carry the song, since Casey's lyrical reference point is a bit vague. Who are the "them"? Where is the "place" he sings of? Perhaps the subject is intentionally nameless so the lyrics can refer to any place where a group of people is disenfranchised. Casey's reliance on the rhyming book in the verses is also somewhat distracting from the song's easy appeal.
The stand-out track arrives very early on, following the first cut. "Addicted to Company" is a buoyant sail across the sea of love. Casey's voice vacillates dreamily between bliss and longing. The gorgeous harmonies of the background singers carry the refrain, "Baby what are you looking for", towards a heaven bound destination. Graceful strings, soft horns, and luminescent keys simulate mid-'70s pop-soul. Rather than merely mimicking the sound of the era, Casey and his producers create the illusion that it's an unearthed gem from long ago. Wisely, that kind of celestial quality is reserved only for one track on the album, giving "Addicted to Company" even more of a special distinction.
Moving far along the spectrum of style, Paddy Casey channels a "Long Tall Glasses"-era Leo Sayer on "Not Out to Get You". This delightful concoction of burlesque banjo and piano is the most fun Casey has on the album. Conversely, "Refugee" is among the more bleak cuts. An interesting marriage of furious, flamenco-inspired guitar strumming takes flight over Casey's grievance, "The look on my face/is just the disgrace/of the child you locked outside your door". Rather than the rage the lyrics suggest, Casey emotes a more melancholy, navel-gazing tone.
The roughness in Casey's voice on "It's Over Now" would seem a more suitable dressing for "Refugee". It's only here that the listener gets a sense of Casey's roots as a busker on the streets of Dublin. He sings with just the right measure of bitterness, handling his guitar with an equal amount of ferocity.
"It's Over Now" is a welcome jolt after the sugary anthem "U & I". Overstaying its welcome at five minutes, "U & I" is a bit too precious for its own good, with the obligatory choir driving the message of universality into the ground. The pastoral folk on the album's untitled track is a good example of how Casey achieves much more with less contrivances.
The songs on Addicted to Company would probably translate best in a concert setting, where the studio tricks would be minimal and Casey's performance could come across a bit less filtered. His knack for writing memorable melodies is assured and a live album would be a welcome supplement to the studio recordings. Certainly there are any number of ways Paddy Casey could go from Addicted to Company but for now, he's coasting on the waves of pleasant, studio-perfect pop.