Mick Flannery and Susan O’Neill: In the Game review – Two stars are reborn

Fri, Sep 3, 2021, 05:00

   
 

Album:
In the Game

Artist:
Mick Flannery and Susan O'Neill

Label:
Rosa/Believe

Genre:
Singer / Songwriter

In the act of coming together, Mick Flannery and Susan O’Neill tell us how it all falls apart on a concept album that walks through the graveyard of a romantic relationship. Both esteemed musicians in their own right, together they forge a new sound as they take on characters who are now ghosts of their former selves.

“Write a story for me, in your mind, and let it run. Lies and tides turnin’, until the both of us are done,” goes the conflicting Baby Talk, a country song Flannery first wrote for himself. After showing the unfinished version to O’Neill, he expanded its narrative by turning it into a duet and kicking off their collaborative project. 

The Cork singer-songwriter scene first met the folk singer and multi-instrumentalist from Clare in 2018, when she was the support act for a number of his Irish shows. O’Neill (who releases music as SON), a relative newcomer but highly revered, stepped in as co-writer in late 2019, and the rest of the album was written and recorded during the lockdown summer of 2020 between Cork and Los Angeles. In the Game was “virtually” produced by Tony Buchen, who has previously worked with Smashing Pumpkins, Troye Sivan, Courtney Barnett and Flannery on his 2019 self-titled album.

The warmth of love shines through on this album of contrasts when a cold demeanour takes hold of our protagonists. The trickling blues of These Are the Days uncovers the lies that often accompany the outpourings of love. The gospel-driven chorus of Love You Like I Love You barters to save what’s left and, as O’Neill’s voice rasps in anger, the accusatory Are We Free is the musical equivalent of storming out and slamming a door in the middle of an argument. 

O’Neill, crashing through every wave of emotion over the tinkling piano on Miss Me When I’m Gone, is spiteful and pained in her delivery but, in the grand exit that the chorus describes, also hopeful that she will actually be missed. For all the drama and fury, love still burns – in more ways than one.

The simplicity of Blue River allows the sadness of separation to sit with the listener, as Flannery and O’Neill softly weave their vocals in and around each other, even though they’re parting ways. 

By constructing a fictional relationship around the familiarity of break-up, both artists reveal new and more candid sides to their songwriting. Tough but theatrical, two stars are reborn.