Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Parallel Dreams Convinces Me: I'm Not A Fan Of Loreena McKennitt's Music!

The Good: Good vocals, Decent, fairly original sound
The Bad: SHORT, Replays poorly, fairly indistinct.
The Basics: Short, indistinct and ultimately average, Loreena McKennitt's album Parallel Dreams leaves me unimpressed after several listens.

One of my least favorite, but recurring, arguments I get into when discussing music with people tends to stem around the idea that if I find something I do not like, I find myself accused of not understanding it. Fans of any given musical artist, especially the ones who are creative (I recall fans of Bjork's works being especially vicious) seem to take up arms for their favored musical artist by insisting that those who do not like the works of the artist just don't "get it." The truth is, I've listened to almost all of Loreena McKennitt's albums, reviewed To Drive The Cold Winter Away (here!) and A Midwinter Night's Dream (here!), and I'm at the point where I'm ready to say, "I am not a fan." And it is most certainly not because I do not understand her music; I get it, I get what she's doing, but I'm not convinced it is in any way remarkable.

I come to this conclusion on the music of Loreena McKennitt as I conclude the ninth spinning (and begin the tenth) of McKennitt's album Parallel Dreams. It is on this album that I postulate a reasonable hypothesis on McKennitt's works as well. I suspect what happens with most listeners is that they hear Loreena McKennitt's natural vocals and celtic instrumentals and think, "This is unlike anything I've ever heard and that makes it cool!" And they are right; a decent musical collection ought to have one McKennitt album or one mix, but becoming a collector of her works is a study in redundancy, even though she has move through many phases, including recently getting into a more Middle Eastern sound. But most of her albums replay poorly and are shorter and just become musical white noise.

To wit, the only track I feel like actually discussing after so many listens is "Dickens' Dublin," largely because it is the only song that stands out, for better and for worse. "Dickens' Dublin" illustrates the creativity of Loreena McKennitt as a music maker and performer. Unfortunately, the song also stands as a decent example of how creativity does not guarantee success in every musical experiment. What works in the song is McKennitt's vocals, especially her haunting refrain of "Maybe I can find a place I can call my home / Maybe I can find a home I can call my own" ("Dickens' Dublin"). She sings a musical storysong which is eerie, sensual and deliciously murky. She is accompanied by simple pianos and backing vocals which give her an ethereal sound which is the perfect embodiment and personification of longing.

Unfortunately, between her singing, the piano quiets down and she samples a cockney kid who tells his story of living on the streets and its utterly amelodic and it kills the flow of the song. After the third time the kid's voice cuts in, I don't care about him or his story; I feel like I am being cheaply manipulated and it's not working. Good music can make me empathize with a musical protagonist without resorting to cheap tricks or techniques like that. Fortunately, it is the only song on the album that makes such a right turn into ridiculousness.

Unfortunately for Loreena McKennitt, it is the only song on the album which stands out. Played on a loop, the album becomes an auditory mash of sopranic wailing and quiet zither music which is so indistinct that it leaves one with little to talk about. McKennitt's vocals are beautiful, but I cannot tell you a single other lyric she sings, despite listening to the album so many times and actually listening for the lines (I know "Africa" is sung on one song). The album doesn't have a single. And while I'm a proponent of the album medium, I like albums that say something, evoke a mood or leave me thinking or feeling something. With Parallel Dreams, I have nothing.

With only eight songs clocking out just over forty-three minutes, Parallel Dreams is very much a typical Loreena McKennitt album in that it is a blend of the creative talents of Loreena McKennitt and traditional celtic songs. McKennitt five of the songs on her own, co-wrote "Moon Cradle" and includes two songs ("Annachie Gordon" and "Standing Stones") which have very old origins, but are arranged or set to music by McKennitt. McKennitt provides lead vocals on each and every track and she plays multiple instruments as well.

Unfortunately, her creative talents seem strained on Parallel Dreams as the album is comprised entirely of ballads. Universally slow and murky, this album lacks anything danceable or upbeat like "The Mummer's Dance," which made McKennitt's music known to a wider audience in the 1990s. As a result of being slow, using organs, pianos, zithers and very minimal percussion, the songs blend together as one long, slow ballad which lacks anything distinctive in the way of music, vocals or lyrics. Sadly, there is little else to say about this short, mediocre album.

The strongest and weakest link is "Dickens' Dublin."

For other, similar, musical artists, please be sure to check out my reviews of:
300 Days At Sea - Heather Nova
Wintersong - Sarah McLachlan
Many Great Companions - Dar Williams


For other music reviews, please visit my index page by clicking here!

© 2011, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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