Sirena is Spanish for siren, one of the mythical creatures whose singing was so beautiful that sailors who would hear them would steer towards the sound and then dash their boats on the rocks on which the creatures sat. There is a great deal of irony in the fact that Cousteau‘s follow up to their eponymous debut album is called Sirena. While the title fits with the aquatic themed artwork and some of the song titles, the irony lies in the fact that, if the album has one glaring weakness, it is the singing.
While it would be unfair to directly criticise Liam McKahey’s vocal ability, what is definitely true is that at times his voice simply does not fit. However, for the opening couple of songs, this is not relevant. With embarrassing wah wah and organ accompaniments, he sings lines like “There ain’t nothing so bad as a good man done wrong” and “Honey, would you listen to me please”. An attempt at a Scott Walker impression sounds more like Tony Hadley doing a comeback show at a Darby and Joan club in Blackburn. But, as the music and the lyrics are also mediocre, the voice hardly matters.
However, the third track, Hungry Times, boasts a gorgeous trumpet intro and delicate melody, and one seems to see more clearly where the songs are truly being let down. When he sings, it is self-conscious, old-style crooning, 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 continue throughout the album, on some tracks his singing finds a different level. On Peculiarly You, the band opt for simple arrangements to capture a smoky, late night vibe. McKahey’s crooning ceases, as instead he sings delicately into the mic with surprising vulnerability. And, when the band go for a concerted attempt to recapture the sound of Walker on No Medication, it is a resounding success.
However the best is saved for last, with the album’s climax featuring two brilliant and heartfelt songs. Last Secret of the Sea is an epic in miniature, a nautical fairytale rich in imagination and magic, while the closer Have You Seen Her? seems the most immediate and honest song. Though there 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, and we end up feeling an embarrassed affection for it. Though the undoubted talent on display in the album is undermined by unnecessary crooning, we still cannot help but like what is here. Nevertheless, the final track shows overwhelmingly that when McKahey sings without trying to be what he is not, the results are astonishing. The band will hopefully take note of that for the future.