IT'S SAID that Chinese emperors had mechanical nightingales that were made of gold and diamonds, and that they could both fly and sing.
The Victorians had a similar taste for automatons. Chirping clockwork fantasy creations in gilded cages that would entertain the love-struck, the feeble-minded and captains of industry, while shoeless children clambered up chimneys shovelling soot into sacks.
Today, a singing bird automaton music box might set antique collectors back a few grand at least.
Luckily, we don't need them. Instead, we have Lisa Hannigan. The Dunshaughlin lass made her debut album, Sea Sew, out of old knitting needles and recycled tea-cosies. It was a delightful affair, all cottage-chic and winsome.
After seven years stacking up air miles, Lisa proved she was a true talent in her own right. She seems like a good sport. In the video for the jaunty Knots from this album, she gamely twangs her ukulele while being drenched in paint.
Her songs carry lots of mentions of whiskey. Admirable taste. And she does seem to have a very nice wardrobe filled with vintage frocks.
Expectations were high that Passenger would reveal greater depths to Lisa's talent. Instead, these new songs luxuriate in a metaphysical state that veers between coy, twee and slight.
I'm told that Lisa is somebody who enjoys her food. Musically, when this feast promises to serve some wholesome greens, they actually come across as being smothered in thick lashings of custard and vanilla essence.
Nevertheless, Passenger should appeal to Lisa's fans. It's, after all, pleasant fare. It's a home bake, as opposed to exotic cuisine.
Laura Marling tells me she never brings her guitar to her hotel room.
She prefers to write at home, whereas Lisa appears to have written these songs on the road. It worked for Jack Kerouac and Robert Pirsig.
But unless you value "We came up on Ohio, I have you chewed on like a biro...", (Passenger) you're in for a hard time, here.
Under the guidance of producer Joe Henry, the groove is thoughtful throughout. The ensemble playing is excellent and there are plenty of decorative instrumental flourishes.
That the talented Gavin Glass is credited with adding middle-eights (a section of a song that adds change to hold the listener's interest) to three of the tracks, suggests that someone thought that they needed salvaging.
Despite its funereal strings and Lisa's breathy angst, the Coldplay-sounding Home would unfortunately be just plain dreary without this surgery. At five minutes in total, it can't be argued that the song remains too long.
Guest Ray LaMontagne brings a Carter Family music-hall authenticity to O Sleep. But a tricksy rhythm fails to rescue What'll I Do, which comes with a "whoa-oh-oh" chorus that's definitely more irritating than endearing.
The clip-clopping A Sail mulls over a past relationship with sketchy Dear Diary detail. Over 10 tracks, Lisa's whispery confessional tone takes its toll.
Luckily, there's enough here to suggest she may yet produce a brilliant album. HHIII