Since the release of his 2004 debut LP Since Kyabram, Dublin native Declan O’Rourke has been winning not only critical acclaim for his work but also legions of fans – including musical legends such as Josh Groban, Christy Moore, Ronnie Wood and Chris Rea. Among those fans is Paul Weller, who’s now produced Declan’s seventh album, ‘Arrivals’, which is released today.
The record opens with In Painters’ Light, a bright, zingy tune which shows off the depth and gravel in O’Rourke’s voice as well as the richness. The song really captures the details and mellow, dreamy feeling of early mornings, such as the image of the fishing boat, as well as showing off his talent as a storyteller. He does a great job of getting into his narrator’s head, adding a philosophical and nostalgic quality in the lyrics (‘the best way to kill the thing you love is if you never even try’) and a sense of steadfastness that makes the character completely believable.
That detailed storytelling and mix of upbeat melodies with reflective lyrics continues throughout the 10-track LP. The lively yet bittersweet The Harbour, with its snapshots of Johnny cooking his Lidl steak on Friday night after laying tiles and chatty Pete the hippy, has a romantic, string-lead feel that’s full of warmth and affection and shows O’Rourke hitting some impressive high notes. Meanwhile, Andy Sells Coke pairs a rollicking, jaunty rhythm with downbeat lyrics of a character trapped in a cycle of regret and fleeting connections and trying to escape, before going into a big soaring chorus as the narrator comes down from his night of excess, whilst Zeus and Apollo takes the form of a conversation between two mythological figures with a tongue-in-cheek sharpness and questioning, philosophical feel as the pair try to connect with each other, striking a balance between the son seeking independence whilst knowing there is a soft place to land.
Elsewhere, O’Rourke takes these vignettes and uses them effectively to deliver his observations on the state of the world. The vivid, thought-provoking Olympian uses the story of Syrian swimmer Yusra Mardini to provide a powerful comment on the refugee crisis, particularly in its hauntingly vivid a capella section, whilst Have You Not Heard The War Is Over has a darker, atmospheric feel which sees O’Rourke return to the theme of smaller stories (such as finding a man in the jungle who was still fighting in WWII) whilst also referencing current events. His frank and measured delivery makes the song even more powerful, and the ending is simultaneously downbeat yet oddly optimistic. The strongest example of this though is Convict Ways, a tale of transportation to Australia which has a simple, timeless feel about it, reflecting on the apparent sense of freedom that comes at a price. ‘No man is free when free alone, that one soul is chains is all in chains’, O’Rourke sings, a reminder that slavery still goes on but offering a sense of hope that it will be gone in the future. It’s very cleverly done and he pulls it off with skill.
One of the standout tracks for me comes early on with the cinematic The Stars Over Kinvara. It’s a beautiful, melodic tune which evokes family history and stories from the narrator’s childhood, as well as the sense of comfort from returning home – you can practically smell the sea air and see the stars in the sky as O’Rourke sings about the first night back there after the birth of his son, and it’s a very emotional moment. The piano-led title track, focusing on an old friend returning from abroad, is another highlight, offering a series of observations on people coming home and the bittersweet feeling of moments missed and reflections on youth, against a backdrop of lush strings (a recurring motif throughout the album).
The record closes with This Thing That We Share, which feels like a departure from the rest of the album with its stripped-back, jazzy vibes and sparse, shuffling intro. It has an organic, almost spooky quality to it – you could easily find yourself listening to it in a dark bar in New Orleans, yet the tape clicks at the end place you firmly back in the real world – and it shows off the depth to O’Rourke’s voice as well as his range, putting the emphasis firmly on his vocals. With plenty of piano and trumpet flourishes, it’s a song that lingers and stays with you long after the album has finished.
Overall Declan O’Rourke has delivered a solid, coherent album which shows off his incredible ability as a songwriter and being able to take individual stories to talk about much bigger issues, as well as creating rich characters who almost rise up out of the songs and come to life. It’s a record with plenty of layers that rewards multiple listens and I’m intrigued to see what avenues he’ll go down next.
Track listing: 1. In Painters’ Light 2. The Harbour 3. The Stars Over Kinvara 4. Olympian 5. Arrivals 6. Andy Sells Coke 7. Have You Not Heard The War Is Over 8. Convict Ways 9. Zeus and Apollo 10. This Thing That We Share Record label: Eastwest Records Release date: 9th April 2021