It's been 12 years since Mick Flannery released his debut album Evening Train, although it feels like the Blarney native has been a fixture on the scene for much longer.
Even back in 2007, it was clear that the songwriter had a way with lyrics, an understanding of melody, a clutch of influences (Mitchell, Cohen, Waits and all the greats) to be reckoned with, and a gruffly charming voice to round it all off. He even had an “angle” that the music press immediately pounced on: his former career of stonemasonry lending itself to a multitude of “finely crafted” and “slowly chipping away” analogies amidst reports of his shyness and endearing awkwardness when put in front of an audience.
A record deal with EMI gave his name a boost in the late noughties and led to several number one albums in Ireland; he has become what you might call a "sure thing" when it comes to solid sales figures, each release a reliable clutch of well-written songs that run the gamut from broody to brisk. Yet "reliable" is also majorly underselling Flannery's talent, as his sixth album emphatically proves.
His most recent musical project entailed turning the aforementioned Evening Train into a stage musical that recently ran to positive reviews in Cork. Perhaps some of that theatricality has seeped into this eponymous collection. This is a loose concept album based around a successful musician who struggles to deal with the trappings of fame – a hypothesis posed as early in his career as Tomorrow’s Papers from his 2008 album White Lies.
Although he has insisted that these songs are not strictly autobiographical, there are moments here and there that are too tender to be impersonal. His knack for scene-setting comes alive on the atmospheric, Springsteen-esque rumble of How I Miss You: "Last night I had a dream, babe/ We were sat between the cars and you were sleeping in my arms/ In the soft red of setting sun on the train back from Dublin."
Others, such as the cautionary Light a Fire – a murky musical homage to Leonard Cohen – detail the slow unravelling of a touring band due to "money, drugs and desire", while Star to Star documents the capricious nature of fame set to ruffled musical melodrama. It's safe to say that a sense of poignancy is never far from his lyric sheet.
Other songs are less encumbered by any story thread and are simply exceptionally pleasant to listen to. The easygoing 1970s folk of There Must Be More evokes Van Morrison with its gentle bellows of brass. The sombre, stark opening of Wasteland gives way to piano, drums and lush strings, while the taut bounce of Fool is as poppy as Flannery is likely to get.
The thing about Mick Flannery, which is perfectly illustrated by this album, is that there is always more to him than meets the eye. This record may not bring him the celebrity that has so far eluded the thirtysomething – and perhaps, given the subject matter of these songs, he is happier that way. Nor will it win over those listeners who have erroneously written him off as a one-trick pony. However, it is easy to imagine him still making beautifully honed, thoughtful albums for appreciative audiences in 20 or 30 years’ time. If they’re anything like this one, that is most certainly no bad thing.