I listen to at least one new Irish album each week and often wonder which of them will last the test of time. Some that I once adored don’t seem so special now, while others have only grown with age.
Conversely, some of the venerable albums that are regularly cited as Irish classics may not deserve their lofty status.
With Record Store Day today, now is as good a time as any for me to choose. I’m not considering live albums (so no Live and Dangerous, Thin Lizzy fans) or compilations (that rules out The Blades’ superior Raytown Revisited).
The full top 30 countdown is available in the slideshow below.
30. Music in Mouth - Bell X1 (2003)
Songs of hope and heartbreak, borne out of deeply personal circumstances. Paul Noonan’s idiosyncratic songwriting was evident in the gorgeous Eve, the Apple of My Eye and the harrowing In Every Sunflower. The playful Tongue leavened the darkness.
29. Tourist History - Two Door Cinema Club (2010)
An effervescent debut in which any of the 10 lean tracks could have been released as singles. Even the ubiquity of Undercover Martyn and Something Good Can Work on TV commercials couldn’t dampen the collection’s giddy euphoria.
28. The Clock Comes Down The Stairs - Microdisney (1985)
A hyper-literate album from one of the key Irish bands of the 1980s. Cathal Coughlan’s caustic, poetic lyrics and Sean O’Hagan’s melodic gifts meshed together memorably, especially on the dark, troubled pair of Birthday Girl and Horse Overboard.
27. Ghostown - The Radiators (1979)
A lost post-punk classic, the second album from Philip Chevron, Steve Averill et al cast a jaundiced eye over often-bleak urban Ireland of the day. The tunes were top-notch; the melodic sensibility of Million Dollar Hero and Johnny Jukebox were particularly irresistible.
26. O - Damien Rice (2002)
The former Juniper singer |wore his heart on his sleeve on a solo debut in which he demonstrated first-rate songwriting skills. The Blower’s Daughter and Amie tugged on heartstrings, and Delicate lived up to its title in quietly spectacular fashion.
25. Jailbreak - Thin Lizzy (1976)
The Boys are Back in Town is, rightly, a defining song in the Lizzy story, but there’s so much more to appreciate on the band’s marvellous sixth album: hard rock rarely got much better and, in Cowboy Girl, Phil Lynott was at the peak of his songwriting powers.
24. A Sonic Holiday - Engine Alley (1992)
Kilkenny’s Kenealy brothers should have enjoyed the greatness that was once tipped for them. This indie-glam-psychedelic hybrid managed to straddle the avant-garde and the commercial. The vignettish songs are sublime, not least Mrs Winder and Telescope Girl.
23. Fitzcarraldo - The Frames (1995)
Glen Hansard’s most complete, consistently strong work pre-dates his Oscar glory by a dozen years. His songs are angry, bitter, tender — sometimes all at once. Named after the Werner Herzog film, it rocked (Revelate) and soothed (the hidden track Your Face).
22. The Book of Invasions - Horslips (1976)
Subtitled A Celtic Symphony, Horslips’ wildly ambitious sixth album weaved the disparate strands of ancient Irish legends, trad and prog-rock in frequently spellbinding fashion. The quintet’s mastery of a wide range of instruments shines through. Celtic rock’s pinnacle.
21. Awayland - Villagers (2013)
With a poet’s eye for lyrical detail and an ear for the beguiling and unexpected, Conor O’Brien is no ordinary troubadour. That yen for experimentation was all over this marvellously eclectic second album, with The Waves pushing the boat out.
20. Planxty - Planxty (1973)
A milestone trad album which retooled the genre for the rock age. There’s reverence for Ireland’s venerable music |legacy, but there’s room too for sounds as diverse as Balkan folk. The virtuosity of the playing enthralls — witness Raggle |Taggle Gypsy/Tabhair Dom Do Lámh.
19. I Do Not Want What I Haven’t Got - Sinead O’Connor (1990)
The Dubliner’s second album continued where her startling debut left off. A stunning cover, Nothing Compares 2 U, made her a star, while the strident The Emperor’s New Clothes screamed: “Don’t mess with me.”
18. Immigrants, Emigrants And Me - Power of Dreams (1990)
Craig Walker was still in his teens when this cocksure debut was released. What an album it was: The Joke’s on Me, Never Told You and Bring You Down weigh in at the three-minute mark, but still pack a mighty punch.
17. The Undertones - The Undertones (1979)
A thrilling snapshot of those turbulent teen years, Derry’s finest charmed legendary BBC DJ John Peel with Teenage Kicks but this debut boasted several other mini masterpieces: Jimmy Jimmy, Male Model, Here Comes the Summer…
16. On The Boards - Taste (1970)
Jimi Hendrix dubbed Rory Gallagher (below) the best guitarist in the world at Woodstock in 1969. The Donegal man would live up to such lofty billing a year later with this intoxicating, pulsating and utterly vital 37-minute album.
15. The Joshua Tree - U2 (1987)
Bono and the boys went supernova with this America-indebted juggernaut: the stunning opening three tracks — Where the Streets Have No Name, I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and With or Without You — set them up for life.
14. Viva Dead Ponies - Fatima Mansions (1990)
Ex-Microdisney leader Cathal Coughlan was among the hordes who emigrated to Thatcher’s Britain in the 1980s and here he railed against the sweeping injustices of his adoptive land. But there’s beauty to be discerned amid the gloom.
13. Casanova - The Divine Comedy (1996)
Neil Hannon let his imagination run riot on his breakthrough fourth album and it got him noticed. And what great catch-all tunes: Something for the Weekend, Becoming More Like Alfie, even Songs of Love — which will be familiar to Father Ted devotees.
12. Boy - U2 (1980)
Maybe it’s because of all they achieved afterwards that U2’s debut is sometimes overlooked. It shouldn’t be. Their debut was a startling statement of intent packed with great songs such as the urgent I Will Follow and the delightful Stories for Boys.
11. Moondance - Van Morrison (1970)
The title track may have become dulled through over-exposure, but it shines when listened to in the context of this hugely confident second album that showcased Van’s astounding songcraft. Love songs abounded: Into the Mystic and It Stoned Me burnished his legend.
10. Passenger - Lisa Hannigan (2011)
A second album in which the Meath singer lived up to her early promise. And then some. This was confessional songwriting of the very best kind. She majored on heartbreak: Little Bird and Paper House, in particular, cut deep.
9. Rum Sodomy And The Lash - The Pogues (1985)
Listen to A Pair of Brown Eyes and The Old Main Drag, Shane MacGowan doubters, and bow to his songwriting smarts. His brilliance was laid bare here. Originals, reworked trad standards, Elvis Costello’s production. High art, really, from The Pogues.
8. I Am The Greatest - A House (1991)
The title’s ironic. Dave Couse wrote from a glass-half-empty standpoint and his songs were all the better for it: You’re Too Young, I Am Afraid and the striking spoken-word Endless Art served notice of his gifts.
7. 1977 - Ash (1996)
The joys of youth have rarely been captured as gloriously as Tim Wheeler and friends managed on this sparkling album. Sharp pop instincts elevated Girl from Mars and Angel Interceptor - to name but two tracks - far above the competition
The cover of The Lion And The Cobra - Sinead O’Connor released in 1987
5. Heartworm - Whipping Boy (1995)
Brutally honest songs that, once heard, stick in the craw — Fearghal McKee was a master of them. There was nostalgia (When We Were Young), obsession (Twinkle) and a troubling glimpse into domestic violence (We Don’t Need Nobody Else).
4. The Big Romance - David Kitt (2001)
The best Irish album of the 21st century so far? You bet. Kitt’s beautifully rendered compositions still resonate powerfully in their tender, intimate way. Song from Hope St (Brooklyn NY) was all about his voice; the uplifting What I Ask mesmerised.
3. Loveless - My Bloody Valentine (1991)
Wilfully different and hugely influential, the quartet’s second album was an alt-rock groundbreaker. Kevin Shields’ inventive guitar was as much about the effects pedals as actual playing. Mysterious and magical, To Here Knows When, Soon and Sometimes changed lives.
2. Achtung Baby - U2 (1991)
It was, Bono claimed, the sound of The Joshua Tree being cut down. It certainly messed with those who thought they had the measure of U2. What an album, though: |From the regal One to the scuzziness of The Fly and the hymnal Love is Blindness, the band soared.
1. Astral Weeks - Van Morrison (1968)
An obvious choice? Maybe. But then there’s a reason why Van’s debut is still held in such high regard. This was a game-changing album that redefined the parameters of popular music. The loose, intuitive playing from New York jazz musicians that the Belfast man barely knew was staggering and his poetry was as beguiling as it was elusive. There was invention at every turn. And songs like Cyprus Avenue and The Way Young Lovers Do will last forever.