After reviewing their new album White Light, I figured that The Corrs deserved their own Through the Years treatment. They’ve had a long and successful career spanning a few different eras of music, and their unique brand of rock/Celtic fusion is worth looking at more closely.
The Corrs are unique in that they are one of the few well-known bands that consist entirely of siblings: Jim (guitar/piano/keyboards), Sharon (violin), Andrea (lead vocals/tin whistle), & Caroline (percussion/piano). They formed in Ireland in 1990 when Jim and Sharon, who had been performing as a duo at a pub owned by their aunt, added their other two siblings to form a four-piece band. They first attracted mainstream attention when they auditioned for and got parts in the film The Commitments. Andrea even managed to land a small speaking role (though, funny enough, she doesn’t sing). From there, they signed a manager, and were invited by the American ambassador to Ireland to perform at the 1994 World Cup in Boston.
The Corrs followed up that performance with their first album, Forgiven, Not Forgotten, in 1995. As the cover suggests, this is their rawest album, dealing with many difficult topics, such as death (the title track), breakups (“Someday”), and isolation (“Leave Me Alone”). But that doesn’t mean that the album is full of negativity. The latter two songs are actually quite upbeat and catchy, and this would set the tone for the rest of their career: the ability to craft songs that cover a wide range of topics, while still being upbeat enough that they aren’t depressing. This album is also their most rock-oriented, with Jim’s electric guitar playing prominent roles in several songs. After this album came out, the band was invited to perform at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta. They parlayed those appearances into a gig opening for Celine Dion, at which point they permanently entered the mainstream.
In January 1997, the band moved to California to record their follow-up. Amid great pressure from the record company, their struggle eventually resulted in the album Talk on Corners. Their second album saw a gradual shift to a more pop-oriented sound (such as in “So Young”), though the gritty guitar remained in the first single “Only When I Sleep.” “I Never Loved You Anyway” is their cheeky breakup song, again proving they can handle negative topics within the context of a pop song. They also recorded a cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Dreams” for a tribute album that ended up on Special Edition pressings of Talk on Corners. Maybe it’s because I love Andrea’s voice, but I like The Corrs’ version more than the original.
Then came the 300-lb. gorilla. The band’s next album In Blue (2000) became easily their most successful. The lead single “Breathless,” charted across the world, and the album went Platinum in eighteen countries. Stylistically, this album completes the transition from a more rock-oriented sound to a more pop-oriented sound, and is easily their most radio-friendly offering. Each song on this album also highlighted a different instrument: Caroline’s drums stand out on “Breathless,” Sharon’s violin gets a starring role in “Somebody for Someone,” and Andrea’s vocals are easily the best part of “Radio.” Jim’s guitar even gets a turn toward the end of the album, on “No More Cry,” and “At Your Side.” This variety in sound keeps the 15-track album fresh and interesting throughout, all the way to the instrumental closer, “Rebel Heart,” which is probably my favorite. It’s a simple song… I could probably pick my violin back up after a 10-year break and still play that part perfectly. But it’s stirring and eloquent, and continues the tradition of the band’s incorporating uncommon instruments such as the tin whistle and the Irish frame drum, the bodhrán.
Despite the smashing success of In Blue, my favorite Corrs album is probably their next one, Borrowed Heaven (2004), mostly because it delivers two songs right from the start that are as good as any on In Blue: “Summer Sunshine” and “Angel.” These songs, to me, are the perfect summation of their style. Everything works in perfect sync and balance: vocals, guitar, violin, drums. “Angel” is made all the more poignant by being dedicated to the memory of the siblings’ mother Jean. These songs are so well-executed that they almost could’ve stopped the album there, but they deliver even more awesomeness with “Humdrum,” which is a funnier and more sarcastic version of “I Never Loved You Anyway,” and “Time Enough for Tears,” which was written with assistance from the lead singer of the that other Irish smash-hit band, as well as Gavin Friday. It was featured in the film In America and nominated for a Golden Globe. The instrumental closer, “Silver Strand,” is also good, featuring a fast-paced violin motif.
After all of their success, the band finally had time for a vanity project of sorts with Home (2005). This album largely consists of covers of traditional folk songs from their native country, though they do mix in a cover of Phil Lynott’s “Old Town,” which was panned by a lot of critics but I actually think it is the best song on the album. They also covered Kate & Anna McGarrigle’s song “Heart Like a Wheel,” which is slower and more restrained. “My Lagan Love” is probably one of their best uses of the piano. While “Home” is a solid album, it was probably never going to have widespread appeal beyond Ireland, and in fact, it didn’t. The band largely faded from the scene after Home dropped, with the members wanting time off to raise their families. Andrea released the criminally underrated solo album Ten Feet High as well as Lifelines, another cover album. Sharon released two solo albums herself, Dream of You and The Same Sun, both of which are worth checking out.
The Corrs made a triumphant return to the scene with White Light last year. You can check out my review for my thoughts on this album, but it largely marks a return to the sound they showed in their heyday. I rather think of it as a blend of a lot of their previous work. It is well-executed like much of Borrowed Heaven and has the solid pop infectiousness and versatility of In Blue. Like Forgiven, Not Forgotten, it is one of their only albums that feels like one unit, rather than a collection of songs. It also incorporates bittersweet themes like that album. It even throws in an Irish folk cover to sprinkle in a little bit of Home. I’m glad that The Corrs decided to resume their career after a decade apart, because they make their best music together. I’m interested to see what direction they go in with later albums.