As The Sky's Awful Blue shows, Cathal Coughlan, as in
his early-1990's outfit Fatima Mansions, remains a master of
wordplay and a confirmed cynic destined to catalog society's
ills. This time around, on his third solo album, the Irish expatriate
has matched his words and deep voice with a sparse treatment
of strummed guitars and brushed drums.
The mood is often eerie, but plain and effective as song styles
vary from the sprightly boneyard travelogue "Denial Of The
Right To Dream" to the 80's anti-nostalgia of "Goodbye
Sadness." The camp drama of "You Turned Me," with a lone
clarinet highlighting a lush orchestration, begs to be set to film.
Especially with the lyric, "You turned me/So it's the Nobel Prize
for you/Now you're looking so stately, pious yet shapely/
Parading down the avenue." But with lyrics that vivid, film
would almost be redundant.
In the grim denouement of "A Drunken Hangman", the hero of
the song's title, battered by years of intoxication and sober
only in the wake of a final failure to do his brutal work, sights
the image of his now-unachievable redemption in the smile of
a young woman in a boarding-house. Simple piano and strings
give way to dissonant guitars as the lyrics underpin the
hangman's grim situation.
Despite their differences, the songs on The Sky's Awful Blue
all retain a rugged theme of inevitable desperation delivered
matter-of-factly in Coughlan's unforgettable baritone.
"It just now happens that things hit me in the face that I think
are worth talking aboutwhich are not terribly cheerful," explains
Coughlan. "The Sky's Awful Blue is the most single-minded of
my solo records so far. It has an urgency about it, which is
partly due to not having used other people's money to make it."