By Jack Sharkey, June 6, 2014
This episode of Front-to-Back Album Friday presented me with a bit of a dilemma. In order to be eligible for Front-to-Back Album consideration there are four pre-requisites:
- • No clunker tracks
- • Interesting production
- • A cohesive set of songs that sound like they were written and or recorded at the same time and in the same place
- • Not a super-well-known album (no Sgt. Pepper's or Led Zeppelin IV here even though they are indeed perfect Front-to-Back Albums)
I hadn't listened to this album in its entirety in a while and when I sat down to start writing this piece I realized that it's one song too long; I'm fairly sure it's not possible to listen to the album from front to back without your remote control twitch reflex taking over. But on balance the good (or great) tracks far outweigh the one stinker so the F-t-B home office has issued a one-time waiver for Same Oul Town by The Saw Doctors.
- • Released on Shamtown Records, 1996
- • Produced by Jim Higgins, Philip Tennant, Kenny Ralph, Leo Moran, Davy Carton, Pearse Doherty, John Donnelly
- • Engineered by Kenny Ralph, Simon Wall, Pearse Gilmore, Tim Lewis
- • Mixed by Davy Carton, Simon Wall
- • Total Length: 48:19
• Reached Number 6 on the UK Album Charts, but if you drove a car at any time in the United States the late 1990s you heard Never Mind the Strangers as part of a massive radio campaign for Harp Lager.
- • Davy Carton - Vocals, Guitar
- • Leo Moran - Guitar, Vocals
- • Pearse Doherty - Bass, Vocals, Penny Whistle
- • John Donnelly - Drums, Vocals
- • Derek Murray - Keyboards, Accordion, Guitar, Mandolin, Banjo
- • Brid Dooley - Vocals
- • Anthony Thistlewaite - Mandolin
- • Padraig Stevens - Percussion
- • Jim Higgins - Piano, Trumpet
- • Tony Lambert - Keyboards
- • Pat Shortt - Saxophone
- • Joe Bernie - Saxophone
- • Peter Ray - Vocals
- • John Moran - Finger Clicks
Often wrongly cubbyholed as uni-dimensional purveyors of Paddyrock, the Saw Doctors did not shy away from embracing their roots while drawing deeply from the wells of US FM rock and early UK punk. The Saw Doctors did for the west of Ireland what Bruce Springsteen did for the post-War Jersey Shore and what John Mellencamp did for life growing up amid the cornstalks and Dairy Queens of Indiana. Like Springsteen and Mellencamp, The Saw Doctors tell tales of everyday lives set in a particular time and place but still easily identifiable to the listener regardless of locational circumstance.
A product of the mid-90s CD-era, this album is loud and thick, but coherent. It contains enough soft passages that the overall loudness doesn't get fatiguing. What sets this album apart from so many others of the period is the songwriting, and the production and arrangements do a nice job of highlighting the brilliance of the songs.
My main problem with the final production is the over dependence on compression, but this was how things were done during the middle Nineties. Listening back to this album through that prism, the production does sound a little dated, and I will admit that the dynamic compression gets in the way of the beauty of the voices and instruments, but the songs completely overcome all of that. I'll take great songs produced not to my liking over weak songs produced to an audiophile standard any day, as long as I can hear them through the mud. Because of the compression this album doesn't play well with headphones, but you're supposed to be sitting back and listening to this album as part of your weekend activities rather than using it as a soundtrack to your commute or workout anyway.
1. All The One (3:41): An acoustic guitar arpeggio and Carton's plaintive vocals quietly mask the fury of the full band for a few seconds before the track kicks in completely. A song written specifically about class in Ireland, the message translates well to anyone who lives in a community with other people (right, all of us). Even though the references are foreign to me, I can see much of my own life in the lyric and isn't that the beauty of a well-written song? I actually ride my motorcycle on Route 9 in New Jersey, you probably don't, but thanks to Springsteen's Born to Run you know what it feels like.
2. Same Oul Town (4:44): Not surprisingly, I get in the mood for this song every time it rains in March (New Jersey weather is very close to Ireland's in March). A tale of life as confined to a small world, I'm not sure if this is one of the saddest songs I've ever heard or one of the loneliest, or both. This is one of those songs that is meant to be listened to in order to be experienced. Driving around or setting this tune as some sort of background music to your daily life is cool, but there's a lot more going on here than just background noise.
3. To Win Just Once (3:43): If you're just a regular person who has more downs than ups in life, you should probably listen to this song so you don't feel so alone. There's not a lot going on here musically, a couple of chords, a simple bass line, cover band drums, but the lyric is what really matters here anyway. The last verse is a call to arms for all of us Regular Joe's and Josephine's to break the bonds of our self-imposed middling and do something bigger. Seriously, they pull off motivation without being corny.
4. Everyday (4:28): A sad song about a sad subject from a purely Irish cultural point-of-view, this one is a tough listen but serves the arc of the album perfectly. Brid Dooley's haunting background vocals add to the overall desperateness of the song in a beautiful way. The key change at the fade is jarring and stunning at the same time.
5. World of Good (4:09): One of my Top Ten Songs Of All Time (at least at this very second), if you've ever had someone else's best interest in mind, even if it wasn't going to give you much of a return on your investment, you'll rave right along with this one (and feel better about yourself at the same time). The bridge/B verse at 2:41 is a kind of amazing indictment of the world-at-large and an ode to the power of the human spirit to survive it. If this album was available on vinyl, this would be the last song on Side 1, typically a good place for an anthemic raver and this one sits perfectly in that spot. As you listen to this album you realize that even though the musicianship is excellent, this music is not really about the musicians, it's about the songs, and that's a good thing.
6. Back to Tuam (3:47): This song, which would open the second side of a vinyl LP, is in stark contrast to the "first side" of the set which pretty much doesn't have a lot of positive things to say about life in Ireland (and by artistic extension, life in general). So Saw Doctors, you mean after listening to your rather dour take on your home you want us to believe this guy is actually happy about moving back there? The answer is in the Van Morrison-esque horns and reeds and is a resounding 'yes!'
7. Mercy Gates (3:25): The worst four years of my life were high school, which is kind a weird because they are also the four years I miss most. Go ahead and admit it, you pretty much feel the same way. Now that I'm friends on Facebook with all of those girls who completely ignored me back then, I can finally relate to this song and its gentle reminiscing about not being ignored by girls in high school. All of that personal resentment aside, this is a really pretty song that is beautifully evocative of a time in life we all carry with us for the remainder of our journeys.
8. Macnas Parade (3:10): Now that this set has us all somewhat reconciled to the horribleness of life, this one let's us know that it's okay to celebrate the sheer joy of it in the form of the Macnas Parade, an annual arts festival held in Galway. The emotional duality of life is on full display throughout this album and the sheer exhilaration of this tale of unrequited love for some girl in a parade captures the upside of that duality perfectly. I dare you to remain unmoved by the superb 8 measure penny whistle and drum breakdown that starts at 1:36 – a perfect evocation of the parade itself.
9. Share the Darkness (5:02): A beautiful song about love and lust, this one also contains the most hauntingly sweet Gaelic lyrics in all of rock and roll history. Brid Dooley's soft and ethereal delivery stands out in stunningly sensual contrast to Carton's upfront vocal. It's amazing what a beautiful voice, an exotic language and a little properly used reverb can do - The darkness is coming down, Come home with me love, The darkness is coming down, Come home with me.
10. I Want You More (2:43): This ridiculous offering almost permanently voided Same Oul Town's inclusion as a Front-to-Back Album. I hope the guy who won the argument to include this track in this otherwise brilliant album is sufficiently deflated. If this song was two minutes and forty-four seconds you wouldn't be reading this piece. Go ahead, hit the skip button, it'll be our little secret.
11. All Over Now (3:17): Normally, this would be the weak song on the album but luckily it was saved by the preceding song. The coolest part of this song is Leo Moran's trademark hollow-body electric surf sound on the melody line. Kind of harmless, kind of belligerent, this one works as the token anti-ex song.
12. Clare Island (6:15): Moran takes a turn at lead vocal on the set closer, and whereas Carton's vocals are touched with a just a little reverb on the softer songs and are nearly dry on the heavier tunes, Moran's vocals are doubled and hit with quite a bit of bounce in both channels. Pre-dating today's infatuation with multiple drums played by mallets by about 16 years, the percussion in this song is delightfully subtle and strong. Unlike the posing we are subjected to thanks to Imagine Dragons and Coldplay and every corporate musical-fad imitator we now have to sit through on the Today Show and every awards show we watch, the soft undercurrent of the malleted percussion actually adds to the sensuality of the song – as opposed to being a mere spectacle of forced-coolness. As with the rest of the album, the music sets the stage for the story and nothing more, and that's just perfect.
Same Oul Town is best listened to:
- • Loudly, during a personal pity party with no other invited guests after you've decided the world does indeed suck and you are its sole beacon of sensibility
- • At a nice small gathering of like-minded friends who like beer
- • In bad weather, but you do know you can listen to Irish bands not named U2 when it's not St. Paddy's Day, don't you?
- • Jameson's or Guinness, or both. Possibly a Smithwick's or two, but definitely some Bushmill's