Inside Out is the rather beguiling debut album from Irish born, now residing in Liverpool, composer and songstress Úna Quinn, which offers an insight into her personal and somewhat world-weary perspective, fuelled by the increasingly toxic social environment of U.K. and world politics. A weighty premise and one that may lead you to believe Inside Out to be a gloomy affair, however lyrically (and musically) there is a resounding sense of aspiration, for society to counter this negative backdrop.
Before proceeding to the album a little background info on Úna is required, as it goes a long way to understanding the inspiration behind the lyrical thrust of her songs. Working within social care and special education environments, and in more recent times voluntary sector work with inner-city organisations dealing with homelessness, has given her first-hand experience of the devastating effects of poverty, inequality and lack of education. Inside Out is a very personal journey, one that starts with Úna’s childhood growing up in Northern Ireland.
So to the opening track, gentle picked acoustic guitar introduces Who Said?, and an inquisitive and ever questioning youngster searching for answers. Úna Quinn nicely captures the setting with her characterised vocal delivery. Augmenting the vocal and guitar are the addition of church bells, which can be heard in the distance and pulls in the religious struggles of the country and its effect on the young child. The casual listener could, however, be forgiven for missing the deeper subject matter, as the track glides sweetly and effortlessly, enhanced by whispish floaty flute and slightly more menacing clarinet. The expressive vocal delivery challenges the listener to dig deeper!
Across the album there’s a subtle, but integral, use of environmental found sounds, so the tolling church bells and children at play seamlessly segue into The Master, and with the addition of bomb bursts and sirens, a poignant reminder of the unrest. The chorus captures the anxious young girl on her way to school.
“She says ‘I just want to stay’
He he says,
‘If this is my home this is your home’
Like cattle in the yard
A Narcissist discard
The master, of the front line
And those that take the charge
With disparate regards
The master, of the front line.”
The track closes out with repeats of the last line complemented by intriguing and quirky sounds.
The musical arrangements on Inside Out are engaging, but for the most part, fairly straightforward with guitar and piano providing the main instrumentation, however, what elevates the music is a multitude of precisely placed motifs which drift in and out of the mix. A subtle use of percussion and percussive sounds raises the ante again, and finally a veritable cornucopia of strange but hugely effective sound collages leave us with a truly immersive sound.
This trend continues throughout all the songs and to great effect, as evidenced in I, Octopus and Small Wonder. Still resident in Northern Ireland and now dealing with the loss of her mother sees an increasingly frustrated Úna trying to make sense of life in general – so the jaunty, ear-friendly I, Octopus seems to belie the angst faced by the creative child. Similarly, the delicate instrumentation of Small Wonder may not immediately suggest a darker premise, lyrically however the exasperation is more obvious.
“Stuck here playing the game
I guess we’re made of stone, if freedom stands alone
Playing the game
Small wonder, some world are falling down
Like many, Úna turned to crowdfunding to raise the funds for the recording of Inside Out, and with, to say the least, a modest budget has produced a rather special album. Enter the fray a now familiar name to me, Liverpudlian multi-instrumentalist and composer Neil Campbell. Neil contributes additional instrumentation and his compositional skills on six of the nine tracks. Strikingly so on the albums title track, which, at this point takes on a different agenda.
Speaking about the title track and What If?, Úna says: “Inside Out attempts to expose the media and government manipulation and control while What if? dares to mention ‘greed’, the biggest elephant in the room.”
Inside Out opens with a hypnotic guitar loop, which forms the solid basis for the tension created by the chant-like vocals. Once again submerging you further into the music are those tantalizing sound textures.
“All I feel, all I see
People around me fall
‘one side in, one side out.’
It’s not about sides-enlisting no,
Fields full of gold
The picture you see,
living on borderline
Neil’s instrumental releases after each verse are truly sublime, first time around with guitars, second time with guitar and sweetly sung harmonies. Wonderful – check it out!
Pre-release versions of this track have been aired on BBC 6 Fresh on the Net with Derval McCloat commenting: “Úna Quinn’s performance on this track is redolent of the more theatrical and folksy side of a Kate Bush vocal delivery (I’m reminded of the Bush tracks that featured her brother Paddy)…” I was minded to offer KB as a pointer, as the creative approach to the album does offer references, not overtly, however KB seemed too easy a choice, so I’m glad Derval made the comparison and not me 😉 Whilst on the subject of pointers, and listening through the album, Norwegian singer-songwriter Ane Brun came to mind here and there, and oddly enough for the title track, Art Of Noise.
The aforementioned ‘elephant in the room’ song, What If?, another prime example that you can listen to without necessarily cottoning on to the deeper aspects of lyrics. A bustling, ear-friendly song, delightful guitar from Neil, a splendid arrangement and sweetly sung, perhaps eschewing such lyrics as: “Know all this shit just comes from greed | Necessary to break the field | If only choice could rescue me.”
The two remaining tracks conclude the album on a more sombre tone; Losing Touches has Úna remembering her mother and pondering what she would have made of the current state of the world, whilst the final song, Sin é, is a lament for our unacceptable disregard of nature and the global environment. The track implies a need for society to change, sooner rather than later, and “speculates that if there are no passageways in which to follow our heart’s desire, we are indeed living a ‘life scam’”.
A thoughtful, well written, well-conceived album that can be enjoyed on many levels.
01. Who Said? (3:54)
02. The Master (4:18)
03. I, Octopus (4:04)
04. Small Wonder (5:29)
05. Inside Out (4:29)
06. Steal Away (4:31)
07. What If? (3:36)
08. Losing Touches (4:40)
09. Sin é (4:40)
Total Time – 39:91
Úna Quinn – Vocals, Guitars, Keyboards
Neil Campbell – Additional Guitars, Keyboards, Composition (tracks 1,4,5,7,8 & 9)
Louis Bacchino – Flute (1)
Michael Quinn – Clarinet (1)
Mark Quinn – Vocals (4 & 6)
Paul King – Saxophone (3)
Record Label: Independent
Country Of Origin: U.K.
Date of Release: 14th July 2019