Clannad: The Best of Clannad: In a Lifetime

John Benninghouse wrote this for Green Man Review.

For some, Clannad is best known as the band in which Enya cut her teeth. Formed in the early 1970s in Ireland, Clannad was a combination of siblings Moya, Ciaran, and Pol Brennan along with their uncles Padraig and Noel Duggan. Through the 70s and early 80s, the band chronicled their love of Irish folk music. Youngest Brennan sibling Enya appeared on 1982’s Fuaim and promptly left. (She would go on to forge a solo career that includes the hit “Orinoco Flow,” a regular spin on Easy Listening stations that plague the United States like locusts.) It was around this point that the band began to eschew traditional instrumentation for the modern synthesizer and their music became more popular with each album.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, then, In a Lifetime studiously avoids the 70s. There is also nothing from Fuaim featuring Enya. In fact, one wouldn’t know about her brief tenure as any mention of Enya having been in the band was stricken from the liner notes. The album starts off with “In a Lifetime” from 1985. It includes vocals from U2’s Bono before U2 recorded The Joshua Tree and found themselves the most popular band in the world. Next is the album’s earliest track, “Theme From Harry’s Game,” recorded in 1982 for a television drama just after Enya’s departure. It was also featured in the film Patriot Games 10 years later. These two songs clearly demonstrate that In a Lifetime is Clannad putting their most commercial foot forward. About a third of the tracks here are either from a film soundtrack, intended for one, or a duet with another popular musician.

Paul Young guests on “Both Sides Now” while Bruce Hornsby shows up for “Something To Believe In.” Strictly speaking, the last thing Clannad needs is other people to sing because they harmonize magnificently as demonstrated on “Caislean Sir” and “I Will Find You.” Moving past the vocals (sung in English and Gaelic), one comes to the music which is the polarizing aspect of the band. The liner notes state that Clannad’s music evokes the “awe and grace, history and spaciousness” of Donegal, Ireland. While I don’t dispute this claim, I make my own, namely, that most of the music here plods along like a two-legged tortoise. “Ri Na Cruinne” is a good example of this.The lush backdrop of synthesizers creates a wall of sound which surrounds the listener with surface gloss and stops the song from having much depth. “Sirius” veers towards the realm of rock music but stops short. While it has all the trappings, it fails to adopt the attitude of rock and thusly sounds like a sparse caricature of their more ethereal, synth-led jaunts. It’s also flavorless, less Irish.

Clannad’s curse is that they’re like the Earth in Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, namely, “harmless.” There’s little here that really hits you in the gut. While the music may do a good job evoking the beautiful mountains and glens around the band’s hometown, it does little to chart the landscape of human emotions.

(BMG, 2003)

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