Sirena is Spanish for siren, one of the mythical creatures whose singing was so beautiful thatsailors who would hear them would steer towards the sound and then dashtheir boats on the rocks on which the creatures sat.
There is a great deal of irony in the fact that Cousteau’s follow up totheir eponymous debut album is called Sirena. While the title fits withthe aquatic themed artwork and some of the song titles, the irony lies inthe fact that, if the album has one glaring weakness, it is the singing.
While it would be unfair to directly criticise Liam McKahey’s vocalability, what is definitely true is that at times his voice simply does notfit. However, for the opening couple of songs, this is not relevant. Withembarrassing wah wah and organ accompaniments, he sings lines like “Thereain’t nothing so bad as a good man done wrong” and “Honey, would you listento me please”. An attempt at a Scott Walker impression sounds more likeTony Hadley doing a comeback show at a Darby and Joan club inBlackburn. But, as the music and the lyrics are also mediocre, the voicehardly matters.
However, the third track, Hungry Times, boasts a gorgeous trumpet introand delicate melody, and one seems to see more clearly where the songs aretruly being let down. When he sings, it is self-conscious, old-stylecrooning, not his own voice. When you sing about your troubles, you have todo it from your self, and not falsely.
While this trend of disappointment over McKahey’s vocals does continuethroughout the album, on some tracks his singing finds a different level.On Peculiarly You, the band opt for simple arrangements to capture asmoky, late night vibe. McKahey’s crooning ceases, as instead he singsdelicately into the mic with surprising vulnerability. And, when the band gofor a concerted attempt to recapture the sound of Walker on ‘NoMedication’, it is a resounding success.
However the best is saved for last, with the album’s climax featuringtwo brilliant and heartfelt songs. Last Secret of the Sea is an epic inminiature, a nautical fairytale rich in imagination and magic, while thecloser Have You Seen Her? seems the most immediate and honest song. Thoughthere is a hint of Walker in there too, it is pitched perfectly, still remaining,most importantly, plaintive and utterly genuine in its forlorn lovelessness.
Though its start is faltering at best, Sirena works its slow charm, andwe end up feeling an embarrassed affection for it. Though the undoubtedtalent on display in the album is undermined by unnecessary crooning, westill cannot help but like what is here. Nevertheless, the final track showsoverwhelmingly that when McKahey sings without trying to be what he is not,the results are astonishing. The band will hopefully take note of that forthe future.