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MEDIA: Reviews: Born

Q magazine: **** stars (out of *****)

John Aizlewood - June 1998, issue no. 141

At one point, it seemed as if the world would shortly belong to Hothouse Flowers. Indeed, their knack for retaining the intimate and gentle in widescreen songs was unsurpassed. Then, singer Liam O'Maonlai, at least, gave the impression he had other - more important but unspecified - things on his mind. Now, they're back and they've shed drummer Jerry Fehily and worldly saxophonist Leo Barnes, whom Born missed terribly. It's an odd affair. They try to be funky on Find The Time and a Hothouse Flowers song entitled Turn Up The Reverb suggests things are not as they were. They can do grunge-lite, but there hasn't been a more self-conscious song this year. They're too gifted not to turn out excellent albums and At Last, with O'Maonlai wailing "shed your innocence" against an orchestra hammering Pachelbel's Canon in D Major is glorious, likewise Learning To Walk, Born itself and the oddly vocalled Pop Song. Spooky but classy.

The Guardian newspaper: **** stars (out of *****)

Caroline Sullivan - 22 May 1998

It's five years since these Irish rocksters, now reduced to a trio fronted by longtime wailer Liam O'Maonlai, last reared their earnest heads. The break has done them good, instilling fresh energy into their widescreen anthems and persuading them to lighten up a bit. The title track is probably the sprightliest thing they've ever done, its bassline blithely lifted from T-Rex's Get It On. Contrastingly, Pop Song is almost gospel with its reach-for-the-sky lyric ("The universe waits to be duly fed", whatever that means). Lyrics aren't their strong suit, consisting mostly of existential ramblings, but they're easy to ignore in the general maelstrom of guitars and the sheer scale of O'Maonlai's voice. Considering the heavy-duty ingredients that went into it, this should be a terrible, bombastic affair, but somehow it's not.

Timeout magazine

Tim Arthur - 3-10 June 1998

Who could forget the glorious summers of '87 and '88? All my friends were still at their physical peak, boredom and disillusionment hadn't set in and the worst thing we had to worry about were the impending 'A' levels. We drank wine for the first time, had sex outdoors and listened to 'Don't Go' until our ears bled. This was the anthem of all happy hippies. We all talked about peace, love and the stars and thought the Flowers would always be there for us, always be the soundtrack to our lives. These lives we presumed would be carefree, jobless existences where money fell from the skies and rivers ran with Blue Nun.

But then came 'Home' in 1990 and life got harder, and by the time 'Songs From The Rain' arrived in '93 we were all a little bit fatter and a little worn down by life, college was over, it was time to grow up and the Flowers disappeared.

Five years down the line and the Flowers are back with 'Born'. It's a great comeback. Liam's cut his hair - so have most of us - and the music's rockier, more dance-y and a bit U2-ish. It's exciting, mature stuff. What's more, it's here in time for summer! They've grown up, we've grown up, but this album reminds us that there's still a fair way to go before we cark it. For you youngsters, it's time for you to start your own Flowers cycle. Thanks guys, nice to have you back.

Irish Times

Joe Jackson - 5 June 1998

The music of Hothouse Flowers was always about celebration. From the beginning, when Liam and Fiachna were little more than kids busking as The Benzini Brothers, right up to this album. However, now, most of the "flowers" are fathers themselves, have come through broken marriages or busted long-term relationships, embittering experiences in the music business and near collapse as a band. All these dynamics fuel songs like Turn Up The Reverb, Pop Song and Used To Call It Love. Liam is vocalising better than ever, when he isn't trying too hard to be a rock singer, and Fiachna and Peter are playing with the kind of passion that sounds as if they fear each recording may be their last. A "comeback" album? No. A "coming-of-age" album. Their best work to date.

Sunday Times

Tony Clayton-Lea - 7 June 1998

Hothouse Flowers' first album since 1993's Songs from the Rain confirms the accusations that have been pointed at them since their inception: Don't Go notwithstanding, they have as much pop sensibility as a pack of barking German Shepherds. While some had hoped that their five-year sojourn would last slightly longer, it seems that the band-now a trio- are back to remind us why we didn't like them that much in the first place. In fairness, there are several decent songs. The title track, You Can Love Me Now, At Last and Find the Time are well-formed white soul/pop. Turn Up the Reverb and I Believe are real stinkers. The remainder are so ordinary that it is difficult to believe they would have seen the light of day if it was not for Hothouse Flowers' extremely good album track record. Ho Hum.

Flowered Up?: 5 out of 12 (on the Hot Press dice)

Jackie Hayden - Hot Press magazine, 24 June 1998

Here we have two Irish acts [the other act was Dolores Keane - review not included here] endeavouring to re-establish themselves after absences from the frontline, to wit a reformed and slimmed-down Hothouse Flowers, and Dolores Keane reaching back to her trad roots. The Flowers have been rightly lauded for their soulful live gigs and castigated for the paucity of their own material, the classic 'Don't Go' notwithstanding. But, apart from the noisier guitars and less prominent keyboards, it's generally business as before. Liam gives it his all on a bunch of songs mostly devoid of drama and which rarely climb above the average, with the possible exceptions of 'Pop Song', 'At Last' and the recent single "You Can Love Me Now'. The latter is a feisty guitar-driven track and it opens the score in triumphant style a la Waterboys. It promises much, but little that follows would justify many plaudits although 'Turn Up the Reverb' should please Ocean Colour Scene fans. 'Forever More' is like mid-period U2 segueing into The Stones; 'Used To Call It Love' is yet more U2-lite; and 'At Last' builds on a hypnotic string figure based (uncredited) on Paschelbel's Canon. It's a fine commercial ballad that wouldn't go amiss as a Boyzone single. 'I Believe' is probably the most intriguing track, with atmospheric percussion and guitars underpinning Liam's warm vocals. Don't get me wrong, Born is never so lame that it shouldn't have been conceived, but it generally sounds so uninspired and unadventurous that you wish better precautions had been taken around the gestation period....

The War Against Silence

review by Glenn McDonald - 2 July 1998

The stylistic journey from Neil Finn's exquisite composure [this review followed a review of Neil Finn's "Try Whistling This"] to Hothouse Flowers' post-U2/Waterboys atmospheric anthems requires that you squeeze your eyes shut and dash across the space between quiet empathy and expansive open-heartedness, muttering "There is a bridge here, there is a bridge here", but once you reach the other side, you'll find that the emotional terrain, at least, is strikingly familiar. Neil's uncanny sensitivity, it seems to me, is for the way in which the slightest hesitation reveals a reservoir of moral resolve that perhaps even the possessor didn't previously know about; Liam O'Maonlai (who was the "L" in ALT, the "T" being Tim Finn, so at least the personnel connections are easy), by comparison, is a preacher, perhaps the one who comes in after Neil has found the opening, and draws the soul out through it. If Neil's songs whisper that you are bigger than your pain, in a voice that could be your own neglected conscience, Hothouse Flowers' howl at you like the coach of a Zen monastery's basketball team, incensed that you ever contemplated surrender, but these are ways of expressing the same belief in your potential.

Songs From the Rain, the previous Hothouse Flowers album (1993; it's been a while), served a thankless substitute's role in my musical life, as it sounded exactly like the album I wanted the Waterboys to make, before Mike Scott's solo wanderings took him off the path charted by The Waterboys and A Pagan Place. They thanked Scott in the album's liner notes, so I assume I wasn't the only one to note the resemblance, but it rendered my experience of the album inescapably nonsensical. I put off buying the older albums, usually my first reaction to liking anything, because in the context I'd imposed on Songs From the Rain, I couldn't see any way they'd avoid being either a disappointment or a distraction. In the interim, though, Mike Scott himself made another record I liked, and I hoped that somehow this would serve as an expectations reset, so that a new Hothouse Flowers album could exist on its own terms. What I didn't account for, though, is all the other half-abandoned things Born would strike me as an extension of. The bouncy, clattering "Turn Up the Reverb" is precisely what I thought the new Simple Minds album was going to sound like. The giddy, near-gospel marriage paean "Forever More" sounds like a conflation of unmaterialized futures borrowed from the Proclaimers, Del Amitri, the Call and the Rolling Stones. The pulsing, growling "Born", which could easily have been the theme song to The Truman Show, reminds me at once of Gary Numan, Mike Peters and Steve Miller, though it's hard to imagine than an actual collaboration between those three would sound this natural. "Pop Song" is the kind of thing the Primitive Radio Gods album would have had to be filled with to live up to "Standing Outside a Broken Phone Booth With Money in My Hand". "Used to Call It Love" is how U2 might have turned out if they'd kept making albums like War, instead of changing styles just when they learned to play well enough to do the old one justice. "At Last" could be a Scott Walker song if he'd tempered his Jacques Brel fascination with a little more Lou Reed, but refused to part with the Walker Brothers' soaring string arrangements. "Find the Time" is like a Blue Nile song slyly remixed by Pizzicato Five. "I Believe" reminds me of the Call again, though circa Red Moon, not the cinematic era of the obvious lyrical referent, "I Still Believe". And the wheezy, lurching vocal delivery of "Learning to Walk" is right out of Mike Scott's book.

But nearly everything can be expressed in the units of something else, and each time I listen to this album it makes more sense to me on its own. Each time through, "You Can Love Me Now", the opening track, which has components of every other song but somehow escapes reminding me of anything, exerts its influence more assertively, suggesting that the other songs, too, have independent identities, if I feel like looking at them, instead of around them. The drum programming is an intriguing adaptation to the departure of Songs From the Rain drummer Jerry Fehily, and the absence of saxophonist/organ-player Leo Barnes also helps explains the drift away from Celtic naturalism. Plenty has happened in music since 1993, and while it would have been impressive if Hothouse Flowers had been able to hold their ground against the currents, I think it's even more impressive that they've managed to make slow, orderly progress in the face of abundant overblown chaos.