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MEDIA: Reviews: Songs From The Rain

Australian Rolling Stone magazine: ****1/2 stars (out of *****)

Bruce Elder - May 1993, issue 483

Although it is still early in the year, it is hard to imagine there are going to be too many records better than this remarkable third offering from Irish band Hothouse Flowers. Here is the near-perfect synthesis of rock, folk and soul into a new, imaginative hybrid which is like Planxty meets the Commitments with a dash of U2 thrown in for good measure.

This kind of synthesis has been tried before - most famously by Van Morrison, Phil Lynott and the Waterboys - but somehow the energy, the sheer vitality, the overpowering sense of joy and excitement which informs this record makes it a great affirmation of all that is worthwhile and uplifting about rock and roll.

Lesser bands will listen to this album in amazement and wonder at the extraordinary vocal qualities of Liam O'Maonlai, a wonderfully rich instrument which at times sounds disarmingly like a cross between Jim Morrison, Mike Scott and Tim Buckley.

They will marvel at how O'Maonlai is equally at home with the joyful Irish soul of "This Is It (Your Soul)" as he is on the marvellously sensitive ballad "Your Nature" or the exuberant "Gypsy Fair". His vocal styling ranges from the lightning flash a capella opening line of the album "You have been disturbed from your sleep" and the wonderfully delayed and perfectly timed delivery of "This is your soul", to the soul falsetto finale of "Gypsy Fair" and the religious intensity of "Stand Beside Me".

They will be amazed that an Irish band can write a song called "Spirit of the Land" which mixes a didgeridoo with piano and a bustling, thrusting traditional Irish jig. Here is a song reminiscent of David Bridie at his best which actually pushes the experiments of bands like Not Drowning, Waving on to a new and higher plane.

They will be in awe of the band's diverse virtuosity which seems to range, with absolute effortlessness, from rock to soul, folk and gospel with so much fire-in-the-belly sincerity and passion to make most other bands seem tired and lacklustre.

And the understanding of how to craft a song is breathtaking. Listen to "One Tongue" and be amazed at the interplay of the piano, the saxophone and the organ and the inspired, dying coda of "Yi Lui" which the band proudly credit as coming "from a song of the same name written by our native Australian brother Joe Geia".

The truth is that there is not a bad track on this album, and there are many which are truly great. If this album does not convert Hothouse Flowers into one of the world's premier rock bands, there is no morality or fairness in this crazy business.

Songs from the Flower Children

review by Brian Rohan - Irish Voice, February 23, 1993

Listening to Songs From The Rain, one of the first things which come to mind is that a vacation is definitely in order (hear that, boss?). Here's an album which I know I should enjoy, a big, happy collection of peace, love and understanding. How can you fault an album with a much-repeated anthemic chorus line like "Be good/Be kind/Be truthful/and be free"?

Throw on top of that plenty of flowers, rainbows and this bunch of pasteurized Dublin neo-hippies dancing in their bare feet, and how can you argue? It would take a fairly mean begrudger to do so.

That, or a generation brought up to hate this hippie drivel. This is a song to be heard out in the countryside, in a field of those big yellow flowers up to your eyes, in a car speeding across open plains. Well the accountants didn't agree with this columnist's idea of a vacation, so here I crouch into my seat on the D train fighting the rumbling chaos of the subway and it just ain't working. Think I'll go home and blow out my speakers with some Megadeth.

The Hothouse Flowers are that band you always thought should be liked, that band which has made two okay albums and always seem to be on the verge of something. The verge of hitting it big, the verge of making a truly great album, the verge of writing a handful of insightful lyrics. Sadly, Songs from the Rain does not represent the breaking point yet.

REM's Michael Stipe never allows the lyrics of his songs to be printed in album liner notes because he reckons that words to pop songs look nothing more than silly when they're printed like poetry without the accompanying music. He must have been thinking about the Flowers. There's no storytelling here, just Liam O'Maonlai looping phrases like "A thing of beauty/Is something to behold/A thing of beauty/Is something, etc., with the now-trademarked Flower-power piano anthems. 'Gypsy Fair' is a fine example of facile, cliched babble about sunny, careless days and those quaint wee folk referred to by some people as "gypsies". Worst offender of the bunch is 'Stand Beside Me', a slowish number which borrows just a bit too much from the old Ben E. King song of nearly the same name. The songs never reach the heights reached by, say, Van Morrison, one of the few men who can write gleefully stupid inspirational anthems, such as 'Whenever God Shines His Light,' the one he sang with that aging Christian rocker Cliff Richard.

There are several commendable points on the album. 'Spirit of the Land' is a hard-hitting rocker which incorporates the skeleton of a jazzed-up traditional Irish air with Liam's madcapped Mick Jagger-style screaming and preening; it's easily the best on the album. 'An Emotional Time,' which was co-written with former Eurythmic Dave Stewart is another strong one, despite its adhering to the same lightweight lyrics. And overall, it's easy to tell that this album would be a great listen at a live concert. No doubt the feel of it will make the Flowers a huge hit on the summer festival circuit.

A friend faxed over a review of the album which was done in Sassy magazine, a glossy young miss type of magazine targeted at and written by teenaged girls. The reviewer acknowledges that the Flowers are ridiculously sweet and, well, flowery to a fault, but ultimately defends them because they're such nice guys. "I do not care what other people like," she writes, "especially smirking boy rock critics who try so hard to make up for not being cool in high school."

Maybe that's it.

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

review by Peter Kane - April 1993

A Hothouse Flowers album comes with the sort of gestation period that would have had even elephants squirming. It's been the best part of three years since Home (1990) cemented their reputation, but if you thought that they've been spending their time finally reconciling the gap between the celebratory nature of their live shows and their somewhat under-cooked recorded work, then Songs From The Rain might just come as a disappointment. If not, then it'll probably go down as their most consistent and satisfying effort to date, if a little light on the genuinely great tunes and show-stopping anthems to which they so obviously aspire. Liam O'Maonlai's broad-shouldered, misty-eyed humanity and relentless optimism still make his band sitting ducks for those of a cynical disposition but believers should have no trouble at all in negotiating the white gospel fervour of One Tongue or Isn't It Amazing, the quietly impressive Emotional Time or even a patently sticky ballad like Good For You. If somebody's got to do the cheerleading for us, these five Irishmen are still better equipped than most.

Dirty Linen magazine

review by Elle Geisel - August/September 1993

The comparisons to U2 are inevitable - charismatic lead singer, chameleon-like in his various musical poses, supported by tasteful but electrifying guitarist who provides an undercurrent of emotionality. Like Bono, Liam O'Maonlai delights in wrapping his versatile vocal chords around a lyric, milking every ounce of feeling from mere words. He's a sexy interpreter at one moment ("This is it (Your Soul)" and a reflective being the next ("Your Nature"). While axe-man Fiachna O'Braonain leans more toward the true arena side of the fence than The Edge, the influence of his fellow Dubliner is never more apparent than on "Thing of Beauty." O'Broanain's riffing is omnipresent while O'Maonlai excitedly sings "I believe in things of beauty, Do you, do you?" Melodic and throbbing, Songs From The Rain makes me proud to be a part of '90s music.

All Music Guide: rating 5

review by Harold DeMuir

Though the Celtic-folk-soul overload of Hothouse Flowers' 1988 debut People was agreeable enough, the subsequent Home found the Irish quintet's act wearing thin. On the new Songs From the Rain, pricey pop/soul producer Stewart Levine works to tone down the Flowers' more bombastic tendencies, and the results are a good deal more pleasant than you might expect. "One Tongue" is an unself-consciously affecting anthem, "Be Good" successfully grafts a Caribbean lilt to the band's piano-driven sound and "Emotional Time" finds frontman Liam O'Maonlai evincing a persuasive Orbisonesque wail over an atypical guitar twang.

Songs from the Rain

review by Jeremy Helligar - US People magazine, 1993 (?)

U2 isn't the only Dublin band fascinated by American roots music. But while Rattle and Hum, the supergroup's 1988 exploration of blues and gospel, was reverential, Hothouse Flowers integrate American gospel persuasively into their Celtic rock.

The best moments on the quintet's third album could be highlights from a fire-and-brimstone church gathering. Although the band's messianic spirit is likely to incite further comparisons to U2, the Flowers prefer homespun simplicity to the older band's urban sheen. At the pulpit, vocalist Liam O'Maonlai delivers evangelical fervor ("Be good, be kind, be truthful, and feel free") with a wide-eyed optimism that the message is achievable. Featuring such vintage instruments as bouzouki, mandolin and bodhran (an Irish goatskin drum), "Thing of Beauty" and "Spirit of the Land" rumble joyously like impromptu jams, and "Gypsy Fair" wears shades of C&W. Songs' sole misstep, "Emotional Time," sounds like Bryan Ferry crooning sweet nothings in a Hawaiian lounge. But that one blemish doesn't full Flowers' bloom.

Site review

review by David Gilliver, site administrator

I enjoy a whole range of music. The albums I admire each have different personalities and appeal to me in vastly different ways. To describe any one album as superior to all others in my collection would be rash, to say the least.

Having said that, I have no problem declaring this album superior to all others in my collection. I seriously doubt that I will ever hear an album better than it. In short, it is utterly faultless. Arrangements, performances, song writing - each facet is exceptional and the resulting combination is sublime.

After the music, the most remarkable thing about this album is that so few people have ever heard it. It seems one of the greater tragedies in the world of rock and popular music. This album deserves to be considered alongside the works of Bob Dylan, the Beatles, Van Morrison, Rolling Stones, U2 and David Bowie, although few - if any - of their albums can communicate the joy of music as convincingly as this one does. Listen to it, love it, and weep.

The Age (Melbourne)

published 1 April 1993

There is nothing unexpected about Hothouse Flowers' "Songs from the Rain", with a familiar blend of Celtic folk and soul music, uplifting themes of universal brotherhood and spiritual unity, but what a delight it all is from the opening strains of 'This Is It' to the slow-building final exhortation, 'Stand Beside Me'.

Other highlights include the trumpet-enhanced 'One Tongue' (with a nod to Van Morrison and quote from a song by Aboriginal musician Joe Geia: "Yi lui"), the gorgeous 'An Emotional Time' (co-written by the group with Dave Stewart, who also helped with 'This Is It'), and the lusty, evangelical 'Be Good'.

The frequent Australian visits by Hothouse Flowers (they opened here again last week) reflect the shared Irish and Australian experience, and the group articulates this bond in 'Spirit of the Land' combining Celtic, Koori and white rock genres in a powerful, elemental union. Sure, there is the occasional cliched track, such as 'Gypsy Fair', but an album like 'Songs from the Rain' has an irresistible emotional force.

The Age - eg section (Melbourne)

published 26 February 1993 - John Mangan

"Stand up!" Liam O'Maonlai demanded at the Tennis Centre, and we all stood up. That was the last time O'Maonlai and his fellow Flowers were here warming up the crowd for Dire Straits with their mid-Atlantic brand of folk-rock. The expert and remarkably versatile musicianship continues on this album. The vocals are sounding gradually more Irish than American while the enthusiasm remains intact.

Long-time masters of the upbeat number, the band show their increasing class with a brace of marvellous ballads, 'Good For You' and 'Your Nature', while former Eurythmic Dave Stewart has helped out co-writing 'This Is It (Your Soul)' and 'An Emotional Time', lending both tracks a distinctively radio-friendly tone.

9 out of 10

1993 - Tek Saw - unknown source, probably an Australian publication

At first listen, Songs from the Rain sounds so predictable that the criticism of Van Morrison remaking the same album could apply to them. But such carping is missing the point.

Van Morrison albums are emotional experiences, and so is this third album from his Irish compatriots.

Rain shows how Hothouse Flowers have settled into a comfortable niche, confident of their abilities not to have to try new directions.

Their main songwriter and singer, Liam O'Maonlai, has also learnt the virtues of simplicity.

The titles themselves (An Emotional Time, Thing of Beauty, Good For You, Isn't It Amazing) signal what the songs are about. The lyrics, likewise, keep it obvious, but no less evocative.

And O'Maonlai's soulful outpourings and the band's musical virtuosity sweep the listener along in a wave of intense emotion.

The songs are paens to the human spirit, to heal from pain and appreciate the beauty in and around us.

What they are telling us is think less, feel more.

These are spiritual songs at the most sublime, and not once mentioning god or religion. Hallelujah.

10 out of 10

by David Williams

23 February 1993 - The Esperance Express (Australia)

For an album so eagerly anticipated, there's an unusual calm surrounding the release of Songs from the Rain, which can only be an indication there's a terrific storm about to blow.

Hothouse Flowers have found a special place in the heart of Australians since their debut release People some five years ago. The album displayed a group of musicians eager to tell the world about their passion for music, and delivered a number of memorable tracks - Don't Go, I'm Sorry and Hallelujah Jordan among them.

Their second album Home remained at the top of the national charts for six weeks, and the subsequent live performances, free concerts and radio shows secured their Antipodean following.

That album was a rich offering with a lush production, and the singles Give it Up, I Can See Clearly Now and Movies were some of the best tracks played on the radio throughout the whole of 1990.

Then there was the 1991 tour with Dire Straits - a weird marriage, which saw Flowers clearly upstaging the stadium giants. Just A Note was released for Australian fans to celebrate the tour, and since then their followers have hankered for the long-promised and eagerly awaited third album - which finally hit the stores yesterday.

The big question is, of course, was the wait worth it...?

Songs from the Rain is nothing like its predecessors, a point immediately obvious with the opening track. At the hands of producer Stewart Levine (Womack and Womack, Simply Red) the sound has been stripped back, and what we're left with is the five members, their individual talents combining as one and allowing us to hear, probably for the first time on record, the true Hothouse Flowers sound.

Gone is the awestruck gusto and frantic overdubbing of People. Gone are the guest musicians and backing vocalists of Home, as well as the lush arrangements and over-production, which gave that album its ripe sound.

Gone is the eclectism of both albums, and the influence the diversity in the varying studios and producers had on the Home sound.

In their place is a sound more pastoral, with even more of an ethereal beauty. The mix is sparse, capturing the band's live sound in a way the preceding albums have not done. And the songs are more pop-oriented - there isn't the hard rock of Hardstone City or the freneticism of Water.

The songs have also encapsulated the band's inherent spirituality - both in sound and in lyric. Some are heavily immersed in gospel, with big choral crescendoes. Where before choirs and guest vocalists were used, the backing vocals here are distinctly those of Hothouse Flowers themselves - and the harmonies are used to great effect.

The one who shines on this album though is Liam O'Maonlai, one of the most charismatic and energetic performers you're likely to see and hear. His gutteral vocal is one of the most distinct in modern music, and his style brings the songs alive, urging 100 persect co-operation from the listener.

Impassioned, emotional, soulful and ardent, he uses his voice to project the words, as much as his piano, bodhran and whistle are used to lift the music. If anything, the production on this album enhances his vocal power and lifts him up as one of the best vocalists around.

Songs from the Rain is a tender and uplifting album, exploring the band's soul while reaching outward and imploring its listeners to do the same. It is a sublime creation, and one you will still be hearing for months to come.