MEDIA: Reviews: Home


Australian Rolling Stone magazine: **** stars (out of *****)

review by John Swenson - from October 1990 issue (#448)


Liam O'Maonlai, the golden-maned vocalist and songwriter who fronts Hothouse Flowers, has the kind of vision evidenced in only a few popular musicians of each generation. In performace he alternates the unchecked physical fury of a Jim Morrison with the oratorical zeal of a roadside preacher. On record he subjugates this persona to the songs themselves, which he delivers with reverent, emotional precision, and this is where his vision becomes apparent. In the space of two full-length recordings, O'Maonlai has constructed a worldview.

This set of songs is called Home for good reasons. O'Maonlai is on an odyssey, searching for home, aware of the obsession to make his own way but unwilling to surrender his roots. It's a poet's quest, and O'Maonlai undertakes it in the spirit of his lyric forebears - Yeats, Joyce and O'Casey; Dylan, Springsteen and Ronnie Van Zandt.

Perhaps he is closest in spirit to Van Zandt, the restless lyric poet of Southern rock. Like Van Zandt, O'Maonlai is an outsider at the crossroads of the Western world. Instead of hailing from the rural swamps of Florida, O'Maonlai is a Dubliner, informed by the pop culture of both London and New York yet tied to the secret knowledge of his homeland's heritage.

The world O'Maonlai writes about appears hopelessly bleak - "Hardstone City", where "you gotta carry a gun", could easily be an Irish immigrant's view of contemporary New York. O'Maonlai explores different escapes from this world: the realm of fantasy ("Movies") or the conviviality of the barroom (the CD-only "Trying To Get Through").

O'Maonlai offers hope in the end through such ancient virtues as love and generosity. In "Give It Up" he urges the listener to "Share it out/Help who you can/Talk about it". Then, in "Christchurch Bells", he turns a simple laborer's lament into a metaphor for the human search for acceptance.

O'Maonlai shifts credit for his band's vision to the other members, and the hand-in-glove spirit of their sound underscores the claim. They play the pop-gospel song "I Can See Clearly Now" and the Gaelic ballad "Seoladh Na nGhamhna" with equal aplomb, forcing a comparative view of two forms that sound so at home together here.

Many of the great Irish rock bands, from Thin Lizzy to Moving Hearts, have flourished briefly only to founder under the burdens of creativity - too many personal problems, too many directions to take. Hothouse Flowers just might have the tenacity to make it all the way.


Hot Press: 8/12

review by Bill Graham - 1990


It is, of course, exceedingly easy to ridicule the Flowers. Hardly Irish modernists they've often come across as dream-dazed in their Celtic haze, a band whose emotions have outstripped their creative sense and whose neo-hippie leanings actually owe less to Timothy Leary, San Francisco et al than to the juvenilia of the early Yeats before he most belatedly lost both his virginity and feyness at 29.

But "Home" should leave their fans happy and ensure a few new converts. It may not be a conclusive masterpiece but it definitely shows the Flowers developing with a new technical assurance and generally eradicating the faults that bedevilled their their debut on tracks like the clumsy "Feet on the Ground". Moreover, once they reach the second side, the Flowers also successfully extend their range as they wisely move away from the original Celtic soul inspirations that motivated them.

Still "Home" begins with familiar fare. You could argue that the initial Flowers' had two songs, the slow one and the whirlwind piano-driven stomper and the opening cut "Hardstone City" is literally breathless as Liam O'Maonlai's paino hurtles headlong for the tape, whilst his vocals also markedly and nakedly show the influence of that lost seventies leader Tim Buckley.

Indeed there are initial moments when "Home" actually seems like a solo O'Maonlai album with his piano foremost in the mix. Nonetheless it isn't 'till the side reaches the closing cut, the Daniel Lanois-produced "Shut Up And Listen", that we get a real bolt of the blues.

Compare that track with the earlier ballad, "Sweet Marie." The latter is intense, a Big Statement, but it's almost as if O'Maonlai's emotionality actually derails the song and the arrangement, rather like a mountaineer who's got trapped on a ledge short of the summit and can't go either back or forward.

But Lanois isn't interested in O'Maonlai as another Irish performer contesting the emotional Olympics. Instead he draws a more conversational, intimate vocal from the singer that suits rather than scuttles the song. And with Lanois' own atmospheric dobro also colouring the piece we finally hear a band who don't automatically emotionally overreach.

Similarly inventive are tracks like "Movies", "Eyes Wide Open" and "Water" on the second side. The former is clipped by Noel Eccles' percussion and all three tracks show the Flowers comfortably expending their rhythm range and breaking out of old patterns.

"Eyes Wide Open" gives Fiachna O'Braonain the spotlight for some flikering acoustic guitar while "Water" must be the album's most fascinating track, the first Irish-Islamic song steered along by guests Philip Pyke on didgeridoo and Nawalith Ali Khan on fiddle, alongside the band's own chanted harmonies. If all the rest of "Home" had failed, both "Water" and "Shut Up And Listen" would certify the Flowers' future.

Some faults remain. Lyrical wit is still lacking - you wouldn't employ them as copywriters - and the one cover, "I Can See Clearly Now", exemplifies the shortcomings of their Big Vision as they barrel off again into one of those passionately sprinting instrumental passages that are probably intended as a facsimile of the gospel experience - in this instance the effect is merely to fracture the delicacy and sweetness in Johnny Nash's original.

But, produced by Paul Barrett, the title track "Home" is a ballad that does work and when O'Maonlai signs off with a traditional cameo, "Seoladh na nGamhna" we definitely have returned to first base with profit. This album may not be perfect but this long time sceptic is at last prepared to accept that the Flowers might yet become the class act their champions have long claimed.


Entertainment Weekly: rating B
"...especially touching..."

Anyone have the full review?


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

review by Graeme Kay


Since their slightly disappointing debut album, People, the Hothouse Flowers have been somewhat less than prolific in the vinyl output department and instead have concentrated on establishing themselves with tours of America, Europe and Japan. This suggests that they're happier and best appreciated within the sweatily atmospheric surroundings of a concert, in pub, stadium or club, then they are on record. Their second offering, featuring a squad of producers, including Langer and Winstanley, Daniel Lanois and Paul Barrett (who worked with U2 on the Clockwork Orange soundtrack) seems to confirm that view. Despite some strong material, notably the swaggering barrelhouse gait of Hardstone City, impassioned new single Give It Up, Shut Up and Listen's poignant lyricism and silken slide guitar and the tear-stained balladry of Sweet Marie, plus a typically passionate and gutsy performance from frontman Liam O'Maonlai, whose vocals and keyboard work get better by the minute, Home lacks that indefinable quality that transforms the good into the great. Maybe next time.


Stereo Review

November 1990


"...a bottomless work that marries traditional folk, knockabout rock, and feverish gospel in the service of a deep Celtic yearning for a rooted, meaningful existence in a tarnished world....the music is a rich interweaving of electric rock and ethnic folk instruments."

Anyone have the full review?