'He's not a constituent, is he?'
So asks Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan of James Blake, having been less than complimentary towards the latter’s debut album. But what did our other first-time TDs make of the much-praised record? The seventh Album Club is now in session. Ceann Comhairle DARAGH DOWNESis on bell duties
MING FLANAGAN hated James Blake on first listen. “It was like someone was messing around with the forward and backward buttons, that’s what it sounded like. In a bad way. I found it annoying. I found it hard to listen to. I found it hard to get a place in the house where I could listen to it where people weren’t complaining. And my eight-year-old daughter will listen to anything from Jedward to the Dead Kennedys to Joy Division.”
Ah, but did the album creep up on him, disclosing its subtle charms on return visits? “No. It didn’t get any better. I found it hard to listen to. It was a chore. It really was. I listened to it basically four times, but that was torture.”
No redeeming features at all? “No. I found it hard to differentiate between one song and another. They were all very similar, the same type of thing with each one. He’s not a constituent, is he?”
Sandra McLellan, like Flanagan and his eight-year-old daughter, hated James Blake on first listen. “I actually thought the CD was dirty, and I took it out and cleaned it. I put it back in. I took it back out and cleaned it again. And then I realised it wasn’t dirty, it was the track. It was just so distorted and jumping all over the place. It wasn’t for me, and that is the truth.”
A grower, perhaps? “No. Some of the songs actually went down for me the more I listened to them. There was one song where I was so irritated listening that I thought there were loose chippings hitting off the windscreen of the car. I just wanted to turn it off.”
She singles out the track I Mind for special mention. “Do you watch Friendsat all? It reminded me of the episode where Ross performs in the cafe on keyboards and everybody sits there with their faces and their mouths, as if to say, ‘What the heck?’ And that’s exactly what I felt.”
I Never Learnt to Share, she adds, is another track to be avoided. It’s super-duper-obnoxious. “It had just two lines: ‘My brother and my sister don’t speak to me/ But I don’t blame them’.” (“They probably heard the album,” mutters Flanagan.) “And that was the whole song until the end. I just wanted to scream ‘Please. Shut. Up’.”
McLellan played the album at home for her two teenagers on the off-chance it might be a generational thing. Well? “They thought it was terrible.”
A LIMIT TO HIS LOVE
Eoghan Murphy, like Flanagan, McLellan, Flanagan’s eight-year-old daughter and McLellan’s two teenagers, hated James Blake on first listen.
“As I initially put it on, I thought it maybe veered towards Radiohead’s Kid A or Amnesiac, which I love. Or Portishead. Or Si Schroeder, who happens to be my cousin. The track just had that potential for a moment with me. But within 30 seconds it lost me. As the song progressed I just thought, ‘Absolutely not. If this is experimental, then the experiment’s failed’.”
Even the standout track, Limit to Your Love, quickly soured.
“I did a bit of internet research and found out that it’s actually a cover. Which really pissed me off. I listened to the original by Feist, and it’s much better. So all he’s done is taken a good song and made it worse. He got a computer and put some blips around it. There’s nothing avant-garde about that. He’s a one-trick pony, and it’s not a great trick either.”
Murphy finds the critical acclaim that has been coming Blake’s way mystifying. “I can’t understand it. It’s probably just critics who want to pretend they can appreciate something on a higher plane than others – and if you don’t get it, aren’t you inferior? It’s rubbish.”
Charlie McConalogue, like Flanagan, McLellan, Murphy, Flanagan’s eight-year-old daughter and McLellan’s two teenagers, hated James Blake on first listen. “I was on the way home in the car up to Donegal, and I was tired and I said, ‘Oh my God, do I have to listen to this the whole way through?’ It was really tough going.”
But something shifted this morning. “Maybe it’s because I was fresh coming down in the car, but I found I could listen to it.” We perk up. So he actually likes it now? “I still don’t like it, no, but I can handle it.” Oh. “Rarely have I put on a bit of music that I found so hard.”
We’re back to that first listen, aren’t we? “Yeah, it was scraping my head, that first tune. There were sounds in there that were very irritating. You know the way when somebody scrapes a chair on a tile floor? It was having that type of effect on me.”
We do sympathise, but – not to press – it has grown on him since then, right? “Yes, it’s grown on me.” Enough to make him listen again? “Highly, highly unlikely. I think your man has an awful moan and groan of a voice. It’s heavy going. He’s a bit of a whinger. I can’t see a time when I’d be in such a place as to say, ‘I want to listen to James Blake’.”
TIME FOR TUMBLEWEED
We are now 15 minutes in. The room is booked for 90. Normally by this point we’d be getting over provocative opening statements, rolling up our sleeves for the real discussion. But our guests are all talked out.
With sangfroid, we ask if anyone has anything further to add? Parliamentary shakes of the head. Any observations on any specific song? Nah, you’re all right. How do we feel about the impact of downloading on the cultural status of the album as an art form? Yes, it’s an issue all right, absolutely.
We look out the window. Flanagan, a compassionate soul, breaks the silence. “I get where you’re coming from. This whole idea of listening to an album. I think that’s essential.”
Everyone nods supportively. We reach out for the last Cadbury’s Snack in the middle of the table, the ingredients on the wrapper suddenly taking on a pressing interest. Anyone like a fill-up on the old coffee front? We’re grand, thanks.
McLellan has had enough. Time to go nuclear. Time for the X Factor speech. “Look. James Blake is some mother’s son. So I do wish him the best of luck. And I’m sure that he has a dream and he’s gone for it. I wish him the best of luck.” Hear, hear.
More kindly nods all round. A couple of furtive peeks at the BlackBerry. It’s over.
Four politicians. Complete bloody agreement. Thanks a bunch, James Blake.
With thanks to Tower Records, Wicklow Street, Dublin 2
Meet the clubbers
Luke “Ming” Flanagan is an Independent TD for Roscommon-South Leitrim
Sandra McLellan is a Sinn Féin TD for Cork East
Eoghan Murphy is a Fine Gael TD for Dublin South East
Charlie McConalogue is a Fianna Fáil TD for Donegal North East