For a band that’s so polite they make Ed Sheeran sound like Motörhead, it stands as something of a bold move for The Corrs to reference the Roman God of thunder in their album’s title. Thunderous they are not; they play as if they’re at a tea party held in Buckingham Palace. I can hear Shane McGowan snickering into his pint glass at the mere mention of Jupiter emanating from this particular band.
The Corrs deserve some credit for managing to sustain their family’s career in the face of their overwhelming mediocrity. They’ve managed to amass over 40 million record sales, and in the UK are one of a very select group of artists to have simultaneously occupied the number one and two spots on the album chart (in 1998, when they were the first to have achieved that feat since The Beatles). With untroublesome lyrics and a gentle Irish lilt that you could fall asleep to, they ‘rocked’ the airwaves in the UK and many other countries and rode their intergenerational, inoffensive appeal to massive sales.
Fair enough. Yet whereas major artists like Van Morrison and The Pogues seem alive with the mystery and turbulent history of their native Ireland, The Corrs capture precious little of that country’s magic. They struggle for a number of reasons, however their folksy, dreamy vagueness remains the main one – when you hear Andrea Corr singing, it always sounds detached from her cultural grounding, aiming for something ethereal that she can’t quite touch upon because, well, she’s no Van Morrison. And the violins, fiddles, and feeble percussion with which her family surround her encourage such lackadaisical whimsy, preventing rather than helping Andrea to seize reality and craft something interesting out of the earthy grit of Irish culture.
The most tragic case on Jupiter Calling of the band’s detachment from reality is the attempt to empathise with the downtrodden in “SOS” (Song of Syria), which dilutes the enormous complexities of the Syrian crisis down to the chorus’ “blame it on a star that fell too soon”. If only they had the guts to read into the chosen topic a little and blame “it” on, you know, President Assad or western intervention in the middle-east or Islamic sectarianism. It’s always wrong to expect political smarts from a pop group, but if you’re going to tackle such a serious topic, it’s best to do at least a little research, or else risk embarrassing yourself with a wishy-washy inconsequential mess like “SOS”.
And yet elsewhere on Jupiter Calling the lyrics are not even the worst part. It’s the music that really makes your skin crawl. The piano intro on “Hit My Ground Running”, for example, sounds so bland it makes you want to run to the nearest elevator and detox on the muzak playing there. The group’s interplay is as tight as you would generally expect from a band that’s also a family unit, yet the tightness immediately starts to sounds claustrophobic, constraining real imaginative flourishes because not one instrumentalist seeks to outdo the other. They plod along, simmering happily atop the stove for 55 minutes, when all the while the listener is bursting to turn the gas up. Where is the urge to shock, invigorate, manipulate, or otherwise engage the audience? What, really, is the point in this music’s existence?
To pleasantly burble along in the background, I suppose. Andrea’s voice is pleasant enough on occasion, and on “No Go Baby” the band do manage to wring some emotion out of the song’s tough subject matter (the loss of a child). But it’s not enough. I expect more from Irish music, and listening to Jupiter Calling is a restraining experience, one that’s so frustrating it makes me want to put on Rum Sodomy & the Lash and down a pint.
It amazes me that this album was produced by T Bone Burnett, an artist who has always been immersed in the raw energy of roots music, because he fails to tempt The Corrs out of their gentility. He merely accentuates their dullness, through production that’s as squeaky clean as your standard Disney movie, and not half as interesting.
I don’t think I’ve heard a more polished production job in 2017, actually. And I don’t think I’ve heard a worse album.