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Clannad - Macalla CD (album) cover




Prog Folk

4.31 | 21 ratings

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5 stars U2's Bono had been enamored with CLANNAD since at least the "Theme from Harry's Game" in 1983, and, when the opportunity arose for a collaboration, heaven and earth were moved, poetically, for the brilliant "In a Lifetime", a concise ode to the immortality of passionate love. Apparently a major storm broke in during the sessions and is irascibly stamped on the result. Like much of Macalla, it has not aged well in the "traditional" sense; apart from the melodramatic vocals and period synthesizers, it is awash in the production values of its day, but. like all of Macalla, it manages to muster enough buoyancy to not only stay afloat but come out on top.

I picked up the album in 1986 on the strength of an aggressive ad campaign and, well, the low sticker price when the millions of fans failed to materialize. I was ever indifferent to U2, but very drawn to this unabashedly Irish band bridging the traditions with overt progressive influences, from RENAISSANCE to PINK FLOYD to MIKE OLDFIELD. This was 1986 and one had to steal furtive prog glances at the dark end of the street, and here was CLANNAD. I knew they were prog when nobody appreciated the extra copies I bought as gifts! Nonetheless, it was their first foray onto Billboard and did pretty respectably in the UK.

While sounding subdued today, "Macalla" was Clannad's deepest incursion into rock to that point, and only features 2 tracks in Gaelic. Haunting ballads like "The Wild Cry", one of the tunes with MEL COLLINS on sax, and "Almost Seems", still dominated, but the production was more spacious even as the arrangements were denser. The clever rocker "Closer to Your Heart" could not have existed without Mike Oldfield's "Moonlight Shadow", yet it is certainly no copy, while "Indoor" with its tandem female and male vocals is reminiscent of Jane Relf era Renaissance or ILLUSION. In fact, it has been offered that Renaissance could have moved towards a sound like this if they had not chosen a more synth pop path in the 1980s.

"Blackstairs" is a crepuscular masterpiece of mood with hypnotizing male vocals around an eerie chorus. Its transition to the joyous "Journey's End" is both jarring and necessary, a return to their primitive roots with a youthful exuberance that the normally staid family should show more. The album concludes with the reflective "Northern Skyline", highlighted by the more uptempo instrumental breaks on organ and lead guitar, the last of which affords a fitting climax to the venture.

While "Macalla" has been both blessed as Clannad's best and damned as the first step down to new age hell, the warmth of its melancholy could melt even the contemporaneous ULTRAVOX album three shelves over. The prog folk underground railroad of those dark days echoes through here.

kenethlevine | 5/5 |


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