Back in 1995 when ‘Forgiven, Not Forgotten’ was released, The Corrs had a fresh, exciting sound, their songs a heady mixture of Irish folk and polished ‘pop’, punctuated by rip-roaring Irish reels or melodic instrumentals. I was so enamoured with the album that I even sent a few CD copies to friends in the US, who were similarly impressed by the musical style and production of the disc.
Unfortunately, their third album ‘In Blue’, released in the summer of 2000, pales in comparison; it’s a watered-down, mainstream album with limited substance, precious little flair or originality. Many of the songs are instantly recognisable, largely because they’re so formulaic, and by the same token they’re instantly forgettable. That’s not to say that the album isn’t littered with international hits, ‘Breathless’, ‘Radio’ and ‘Irresistible’ for example, it’s just that none of them are particularly original or have any depth. The on-screen notes accompanying each song often give the game away; Caroline: “I started that [Somebody for Someone] on piano and then went ‘round to Andrea’s to finish it. Then we went straight into the studio and did it really fast in a day.” And it shows.
The DVD-Audio disc opens with ‘Breathless’, a non-aggressive surround mix, which pretty much sets the tone for the entire album. Although Andrea Corr’s lead vocals are presented as a phantom image (they’re conveyed by the front left/right channels rather than the centre) they’re a tad indistinct for my tastes… Just the opposite of the disc’s second track – ‘Give Me a Reason’ – which places her lead vocals dead centre and therefore imparts a greater sense of realism. Once again the surround mix is subtle and this is one of a few tracks without a dedicated LFE channel.
All six channels are back in action for ‘Somebody For Someone’, a relaxed melodic little number that seems to stretch Andrea’s otherwise outstanding vocal talents just a tad too far, but even so it’s one of the disc’s more memorable tracks – the surround mix is entertaining, with guitars over left and right shoulders and there’s an equally interesting vocal bridge midway through. ‘Say’, another track with phantom L/R vocals is less notable, and even though it was inspired by Oasis’ ‘Masterplan’, it’s nothing more than a gentle ballad. Sleepy time continues with yet another soft ballad in the shape of ‘All the Love in the World’, and it’s at this point that one really begins to long for an invigorating up-beat Irish folk track and the skip track button on the remote starts to look really inviting.
‘Radio’ follows – just enough to awaken the weary listener – a lively pure mainstream pop mix, although for all intents and purposes with only five channels are in use (the centre is practically silent). There is creative use of the LFE however, which carries the melodic bass-line and only kicks in partway through the song. ‘Irresistible’, another monster hit, follows, and it’s difficult to tell the two tracks apart in terms of musical style and content. At least here we have a little more creativity in terms of surround activity, and while this is another L/R phantom vocal mix, the centre channel is in use, conveying a melodic bass guitar accompaniment.
As far as I’m concerned, ‘One Night’ is the disc’s highlight. No, we still haven’t uncovered any Irish folk, but what we do have, finally, is some heart, a track that isn’t just stuff and nonsense. The emotional vocal is a perfect mate for the gentle rhythmic underscore and the mix suits both to a tee, the voice is positioned in the centre channel and the LFE in use to deliver a powerful bass-line. There are no ping-pong surround effects and it’s just as well, they’d be out of place here.
There’s little to say about the lacklustre ‘All in a Day’, other than mentioning that we’re back to a L/R phantom lead vocal and no LFE. Oh, and Sharon does manage to inject a few bars of folk violin, a rare occurrence. ‘At Your Side’ is more of the same, as for that matter, is ‘No More Cry’.
The tone changes with the transition to ‘Rain’, the track conveys a sensual atmosphere second only to ‘One Night’, plus there are brief Celtic influences and gentle strings within the musical accompaniment relax the mood.
In stark contrast, perhaps due to the bevy of producers that worked on the disc, ‘Give it All Up’ has a decidedly reggae feel, punctuated with dramatic horns and an up-beat rhythm guitar, all the more effective as a stand-alone number as it’s followed by another slow ballad in the shape of ‘Hurt Before’, a short (too short) track with more of the original Corrs ‘feel’ than pretty much anything else on the album.
The closing track is an instrumental written as the theme for a BBC drama series. ‘Rebel Heart’ doesn’t have quite the fidelity of the remainder of the album, nor an LFE, but even so it’s an atmospheric (and bass-heavy) piece, albeit a tad repetitive. However, it does afford a brief glimpse of the violin and tin whistle of the Corrs of old, which by the time the disc draws to a close one has begin to consider as nothing but a distant memory.
In terms of fidelity, there’s no doubting that ‘In Blue’ has a head start over other early release titles given that it is such a recent recording. Apart from a tendency for percussion to become brittle on occasion – there are faint traces of what sound like (but are not) compression artefacts during a couple of tracks (these are most likely attributable to post-processing practices, such is the transparent nature of DVD-Audio) – there’s little to complain about here. Bass is deep and forceful, especially when the LFE channel is active, whilst the balance of the remaining channels is consistent throughout.
I tend to favour the few tracks where Andrea’s lead vocals are placed solely in the centre channel, in which case they become more revealing, more distinct, but on the whole the title represents a balanced, gimmick-free approach to multi-channel audio.
The Dolby Digital version isn’t as revealing or as dynamic as the DVD-Audio track, particularly noticeable when one compares the ‘breathy’ vocals of ‘Somebody For Someone’, but it is of remarkable fidelity all the same. Even if you don’t yet have a DVD-Audio player, the disc is still worth the price of admission just for the multi-channel Dolby Digital mix.
‘In Blue’ is a mixed bag. Even for someone like me who is a fan of The Corrs’ music, the disc is staid by their usual standard. On the other hand, it represents a high-fidelity DVD-Audio experience that should suit all, even two-channel die-hards, and is worth adding to one’s collection given the limited choice of titles at the moment.