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The canvas of Wild Ocean is big and ambitious, the music almost symphonic in its sweep.
Niall Stokes, 10 Nov 2004
It’s a strange arc. In the early 1980s, John Hughes hit the US Top 50 with the eponymous debut album from Minor Detail, a duo he’d formed with his brother Willie. It was a record of infectious melodic synth pop that almost became a huge hit.
It wasn’t to be and the ‘80s turned into a wilderness period for Hughes, his time in the desert. When he returned, it was as manager of The Corrs, a band he steered to 40 million album sales worldwide – and rising.
But he was a musician first and always – and his muse has ever been active over the past dozen years of his involvement with Dundalk’s finest. Wild Ocean is the result. Five years in the making, it is largely an instrumental album, with Tara Blaize – whose own debut album is due to hit the shops within the next month – featuring on vocals on a number of tracks. There are contributions too from The Chieftains, Finbar Furey and The Corrs – but the guest appearances all work sweetly within the ebb and flow of the music.
The canvas of Wild Ocean is big and ambitious, the music almost symphonic in its sweep. Think Tubular Bells, Chariots Of Fire or in an Irish context Clannad or Bill Whelan and you’re in the right zone. The cultured programming of Billy Farrell is central to the dynamic of the album, and there are outstanding string arrangements from Fiachra Trench that add real humanity and warmth to the pictures being painted.
With the opening ‘Deo’, you’ll get a sense of what’s to come. Anto Drennan plays some beautifully delicate melodic passages on guitar and the music builds to a genuine feeling of grandeur. But it is with the fourth track in, ‘Horizon’, that Hughes’ purple patch begins. As the music explores the elusive idea of the perpetually shifting place where the sky meets the sea, the listener is drawn into the frame. Stop, look, listen – what is it we’re seeing? What are we hearing? Is there anything out there?
‘Casa Torres’ is the centre-piece of Wild Ocean, a mighty track that meshes Irish and Egyptian influences into a dramatic whole. Taking the musicians on an emotional journey of discovery, it moves from a bright and confident opening through sadness – the raggedy funeral band brass is a beautifully evocative touch – to the scent of vindication. For this beauty alone, Wild Ocean would be worth the price of entry.
The songs featuring Tara Blaize sound not a million miles from The Corrs but more ethereal – and will eminently make radio playable singles. In its heart, however, this is an instrumental album and makes its deepest impact as such, like the theme for an imagined movie.
In a sense the penultimate cut, ‘The Phoenix’, is the real finale, powerful and assertive – but the record concludes instead with ‘Dreamtime’ which re-spins the album’s melodies in a different, quietly contemplative and timeless kind of light.
After the storm, comes a kind of wisdom.