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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Alan Stivell: Again


1) Suite Sudarmoricaine; 2) An Dro / Tha Mi Sgith; 3) Ar An Garraig / Telenn Gwad; 4) The Foggy Dew; 5) Suzy McGuire; 6) Suite Irlandaise; 7) Spered Hollvedel; 8) Son Ar Chistr; 9) Marv Ma Mestrez; 10) Kimiad; 11) Suite Des Montagnes; 12) Metig; 13) Pop-Plinn; 14) Bal Ha Dans Plinn; 15) O'Neill's March/The King Of The Fairies; 16) Ian Morrison Reel; 17) Tri Martolod.

Either out of nostalgia or out of ideas, Stivell recorded this album of self-covers that relates to his early output much like the «enhanced» new DVD versions of Star Wars relate to the originals: with the artist procuring himself tons of pointless fun watching the fans kill each other over the issue of how much should an artist really be allowed to tamper with one's own art. Except that it takes the much less numerous Stivell fans much less time to exterminate themselves than it takes Star Wars fans — which must be the reason why we so rarely see them on the streets any more.

Anyway, all or most of the tracks are new recordings of old «classics» going as far back as Re­flets and, I believe, stopping around Chemins De Terre, with these two albums and the Olympia Concert taking up the lion's share. Considering that Stivell is an acknowledged technophile, and has always dreamed of reaching the perfect synthesis between the past, present, and future, it was perhaps inevitable that one day he'd want to «clean up» the old stuff. But it is also predictable that «cleaned up» it may be, but improved upon — no way.

One should admit that, if you play the old stuff back to back with the new stuff, Stivell's harp sound definitely sounds cleaner, fresher, «thinner» than it used to be — but one wonders, of cou­rse, if the same effect could not have been reached by simply re-remastering the old records. The downside is the electronic vibe: swampy synths and booming electronic drums. They aren't eve­ry­where, but they sure stick around, and every time they do, I cannot help but think how come by 1993 Stivell had not yet realized these New Age paraphernalia were no less dated than hair metal and 'Owner Of A Lonely Heart'.

Some of the stuff is even more dated, and with even less reason to be so: for instance, 'Kimiad' from Chemins De Terre receives a generic and completely unnecessary «jazz-fusion-style» bass solo in the middle, something Stivell had not touched upon in the past because there was really no need. All of a sudden we're in this Joni Mitchell mode circa 1979 — why?

That said, it could all have been worse. It is not a total crime to become acknowledged with Alan's classics through these re-recordings. It is a total crime to make this your one and only Sti­vell record, though, because Again operates under the presumption of the «Dumb Modern Per­son», unable to perceive the value of any work of art unless it is draped in contemporary drapes. Even if Stivell's own conception is more noble (modernization as just another inevitable stage of the creative process), in the grand scheme of things it still comes out that way. Even the Star Wars analogy does not quite work — George Lucas, after all, had placed technophilia above eve­rything else from the very beginning, and it is only natural of him to renovate the old stuff accor­ding to the new standards. For Stivell, on the other hand, melody and vibe was always more im­portant than production, and Again might easily deviate the innocent into suspecting the opposite. For all these reasons — an offended thumbs down, even despite the fact that nothing on the al­bum is explicitly cringeworthy per se.

P.S. Kate Bush fans may be delighted to know that she plays keyboards on 'Kimiad', and Pogues fans may be delighted to know that Shane McGowan duets with Alan on 'Tri Martolod'. Not that there's any real worthy reason to be delighted, but it's a nice turn of phrase to wrap up an obliga­tory trivia bit.

Check "Again" (CD) on Amazon

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