Dermot Kennedy: Better Days – A great big Michael Flatley of a torch song

With U2 on hiatus, and Hozier working on his man bun, it’s an ideal time for Kennedy’s new single

Dermot Kennedy: there’s no reason to suspect Better Days won’t get better on the 1,000th listen

Dermot Kennedy: there’s no reason to suspect Better Days won’t get better on the 1,000th listen

 

BETTER DAYS

Dermot Kennedy
★★★☆☆
With U2 on hiatus and Hozier working on his man bun, there is a gap in the market for an earnest Irish songwriter with a talent for anthemic refrains and the ability to look iconic while glowering in black and white. In other words it’s the perfect moment for a new single from Dermot Kennedy, the Dubliner whose music skilfully binds together elements of every popular Irish artist of the past 25 years.

The sense of a performer containing multitudes – providing those multitudes do well on radio – is copper-fastened with Better Days. There’s a lot of U2 in its lyrics, which promise that, postpandemic, “the rain it ain’t permanent … Soon we’ll be dancing in the sun.” And he shares with Hozier the ability to articulate heavy feelings in an expressive, empathic and generous way.

There are also traces of The Script and, in the choral backing sung in Irish, of The Cranberries at their most ethereal.

Kennedy seems to be trying on the image of a sensitive Conor McGregor: a fighter, but one who will cry on your shoulder after a devastating twist on Love Island. Add a bodhrán solo from a Corr and his bingo card would be fully stamped

The bare-shirted Kennedy we meet in the video, meanwhile, seems to be trying on the new image of a sensitive Conor McGregor: a fighter, but someone who will cry on your shoulder after an especially devastating twist on Love Island. All it needs is a bodhrán solo from one of The Corrs and his bingo card would be fully stamped.

What it lacks in grace and understatement – you’ll find greater subtlety in a hurricane making landfall – Better Days compensates for with sheer ardent overkill. No Irish artist ever made it to the top by tiptoeing around their feelings. And, following in the footsteps of his predecessors, Kennedy goes in all emotions blazing. He’s the two-footed-tackling Roy Keane of big-heart man-balladry.

He is proudly carving his own trail to boot. Early in his career Kennedy was lauded for blending the Irish acoustic tradition with more contemporary influences, such as hip hop. But on Better Day he’s doing something else and delivering a great big Michael Flatley of a torch song.

His voice is tinged with his native accent. Offsetting that ragged quality, however, is a metric tonne of production from Dan Nigro, whose impressive track record include collaborations with Caroline Polachek, Olivia Rodrigo and Sky Ferreira.

Kennedy is considerably less enigmatic than any of those talents. But he knows what he wants, and here that’s a hook that blazes like an oak tree struck by lightning.

There is, of course, a debate to be had about why, with a handful of exceptions, Ireland only ever seems to produce one kind of international artist – and why that artist is always a bloke sharing his deepest ambitions and fears against a backdrop of expansive, and expensive, production. Where is our generation of major-label female pop stars? Would an Irish Ariana Grande or Billie Eilish make it to the top? Or would she be passed over in favour of another dude with feelings?

But it isn’t Kennedy’s fault that the Irish music industry is, at a certain level, still living in the shadow of U2. And his latest single will reinforce his standing as one of our biggest music exports of the past 10 years. Better Days at first pass admittedly sounds a little overwrought and bombastic. But there is no reason to suspect that it won’t get better on the 1,000th listen. Or so we must hope, given that’s how many times we’re going to hear it on the radio between now and Christmas.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
GO BACK
Error Image
The account details entered are not currently associated with an Irish Times subscription. Please subscribe to sign in to comment.
Comment Sign In

Forgot password?
The Irish Times Logo
Thank you
You should receive instructions for resetting your password. When you have reset your password, you can Sign In.
The Irish Times Logo
Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.
Screen Name Selection

Hello

Please choose a screen name. This name will appear beside any comments you post. Your screen name should follow the standards set out in our community standards.

The Irish Times Logo
Commenting on The Irish Times has changed. To comment you must now be an Irish Times subscriber.
SUBSCRIBE
Forgot Password
Please enter your email address so we can send you a link to reset your password.

Sign In

Your Comments
We reserve the right to remove any content at any time from this Community, including without limitation if it violates the Community Standards. We ask that you report content that you in good faith believe violates the above rules by clicking the Flag link next to the offending comment or by filling out this form. New comments are only accepted for 3 days from the date of publication.