January 31, 2005

Hothouse Flowers "Into Your Heart"

For a very brief time in the late 1980s, Irish artists seemed to be the 'next big thing' in the American music scene. Because U2 had such a huge success with The Joshua Tree, it seems as if labels rushed out to find the next big act in this pseudo-trend. Artists who had always been at the fringe of the music world suddenly found themselves poised for greatness, and records by The Pogues, The Chieftans, The Waterboys and Sinead O'Connor suddenly received a great deal of attention. One of those bands was The Hothouse Flowers, and even though they released some really good records, due to the arrival of Nirvana, their American success was not to be.

But now is now and then was then and Cobain's legacy is largely forgotten, and the Hothouse Flowers have returned, sounding smoother and better than ever. Into Your Heart sounds like a continuation of a long, fine career and not at all like a band returning after several years of silence. From the first moments of album opener "Your Love Goes On," you'll understand exactly what it is that attracted the label war for the Hothouse Flowers all those years ago. Lead singer Liam O Maonlia has a croon that sounds exactly like Bono, minus his bombastic singing style, and the band's style of pop never grows too bland. Indeed, like a fine whiskey, the Hothouse Flowers' style is smooth, warm and ultimately filling.

Even though it's only brief, It's the use of the Dublin Gospel Choir that makes Into Your Heart quite enjoyable. Even though they never get particularly joyous and they only appear on two songs, it's the use of extra voices accentuates the excellent lyrics in a subtle, meaningful way. The songs "Hallelujah" (not the Leonard Cohen/Jeff Buckley masterpiece) uses it to full effect, even though the choir only appears on the "hallelujah" chorus. The thickness that the choir adds to those two songs can be felt throughout the rest of the record, and after listening, you could mistakenly think they were on nearly every song! Whether it's the jazzy, piano-based "Feel Like Living" or the country-rock flavored "Alright"or the relaxing Sunday-night coffee bar-pop style of "Santa Monica" or "Tell Me," Hothouse Flowers' style is always appealing.

Into Your Heart might not be the most original-sounding record, but what the Hothouse Flowers do, they do well, and the album's nothing more and nothing less than a fine collection of sensitive, well-written and well-arranged pop songs. In the past year, lots of notable bands from a decade ago have returned, and the quiet, hidden jewel of Into Your Heart shows that their reunion was quite worthy and their return quite rewarding.

--Joseph Kyle

Artist Website: http://www.hothouseflowers.com
Label Website: http://www.redeyeusa.com/eleventhirty

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