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Magically ambitious

Ireland's the Script takes a shot at Celtic hip-hop

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It's an easy enough conclusion to come to: Based on the Script's pliant, acoustic-strummed hits like "Breakeven" and "The Man Who Can't be Moved," the Irish trio must be obsessed with the traditional folks of their homeland, along with some Hothouse Flowers and maybe a little U2.

Or maybe not. The band's #3 album, released last week, is crackling with a looped, rhythmic sound that can best be described as Celtic hip-hop, culminating in the current overseas smash "Hall of Fame," wherein Guinness-throated frontman Danny O'Donoghue trades street-tough motivational raps with no less than Black Eyed Peas leader will.i.am. Seemingly against all odds, it's one of the most delightful musical surprises of the year.

"Celtic hip-hop is exactly what it is," confirms O'Donoghue, who approaches other #3 cuts — like "Broken Arrow," "Good Ol' Days" and "Give the Love Around" — in a similarly street-smart fashion. "It's hip-hop, but we present it in a different way — and it's played by a band, but an Irish band. But our spiritual home is America. We spent 10 years living over there, writing and producing. And I don't mean we were stealing their hip-hop ideas, but that's where the mentality comes from."

Indeed. O'Donoghue and his future Script partner Mark Sheehan were so fascinated with American R&B that they pooled their meager resources — roughly $200 apiece — and flew to Orlando. Once there, they crashed on friends' couches and wound up infiltrating showbiz as a production duo.

"I guess having the gift of the gab and an Irish accent got us into some really interesting places," recalls the singer. "We somehow managed to get into the studio with Pharrell and Chad from The Neptunes, and then that led us to working with Teddy Riley, then Montel Jordan — just all these really brilliant songwriters and producers. And that's where we sharpened our tools."

So it's only natural that the Script — now fairly established after two albums, The Script and Science & Faith — would boomerang back to their original inspirations this time around. O'Donoghue also wanted to broaden the band's aesthetic horizons, which is why he auditioned for — and won — a judge's seat on The Voice U.K., Britain's version of the popular stateside reality show. Seated in a giant chair alongside Jessie J., Tom Jones and will.i.am, he helped tutor eager contestants. That's also where he first played will.i.am his #3 demos. "He heard "Hall of Fame" and said 'This is a really special message that everybody can get their teeth into.'"

As does the tentative ballad "Six Degrees of Separation," which openly discusses O'Donoghue's recent breakup from his longtime missus. Then there's "If You Could See Me Now," the most touching work in the Script's canon, which deals with the death of O'Donoghue's father as well as Sheehan's parents.

"My father taught me how to deal with feelings through music," recalls O'Donoghue. "So if someone annoyed me, or was at me, I wouldn't fight back. I'd go straight into another room and sing the highest, loudest note that I could, and I was able to verbalize that pain through singing.

"So be very careful how you piss me off," he laughs. "Because I'll just go and get really good at something else!"

scene@csindy.com

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