Album Review: Declan O’Rourke, “Big Bad Beautiful World” (2007)

I’ve gushed about Declan O’Rourke before, but now I have a whole ‘nother album review to do so.  O’Rourke is a singer-songwriting from Dublin, Ireland, and I fell in love with his music a few years ago, after one of my best friends studied abroad and saw him perform live.  The charm of O’Rourke easily lies in his beautiful voice, lyrics and songs and his debut album, Since Kyabram, has been an oft-replayed favorite of mine.

Three years after the success of his debut, O’Rourke released the follow-up album, Big Bad Beautiful World.   While his debut had more of an organic, indie feel to it, the follow-up sees new instruments (besides just piano and acoustic guitar, which made up most of the first album), as well as more production overall.  Though his sound has been upgraded musically, O’Rourke still continues his tradition of writing wonderful lyrics and singing them beautifully, and the album is yet another great collection of songs.

The disc opens with the title track, an upbeat number that automatically sounds miles different than any of the songs on the debut album.   Though the song is mostly composed of piano and guitar, the production is more apparent- giving the song a smooth, polished feel that you didn’t really get with any of the songs on the first album (but that was never a bad thing; quite the opposite, in fact).   The song, as a whole, is a llight-hearted and breezy radio-friendly single that opens the album nicely.

Things don’t really get interesting for me, however, until Save Your Soul– a mid-tempo ballad that’s an absolute delight.   The slow, guitar-driven melody allows for more focus on O’Rourke’s vocals, which are incredibly lovely, particularly during the choruses.  The entire song is wonderful- the melody is catchy and the lyrics are fantastic (“Somebody’s gonna come and save your soul/Somebody’s gonna be your lover now/ Someone else is out there/Someone just like you/Someone just as kooky/Someone just as cool/Someone’s gonna love you…”).

Make Something actually does sound like some of O’Rourke’s older stuff, and it’s a welcome change to the album.  The track has more of an acoustic feel and the light melody goes along with the lyrics, about being hopeful in a relationship (“We must decide on the safest way to move/And then maybe we can make something of this”).  Whatever Else Happens is a pretty ballad, where production is again, mostly stripped down- leaving more focus on the lyrics (“Whatever else happens/I will come back for you/…I promise you, I will return…”).

Sadly, the album does hit a bit of a dry spell.  Man Of Peace is a harmless and entirely unremarkable song.  The chorus (“God doesn’t care how fast you’re moving”) is a nice sentiment, and for that matter, the entire song, about focusing more on the finer aspects of life, is good in general, but really gets lost on the lackluster melody.  Just To Be Friends is a song I’m still on the fence about.   The lyrics tell a long and cohesive story about a friends to lovers, then back to friends, relationship, and all the complications within.   However, this is all told so plainly (“Sometimes you can’t help feeling these things/Sometimes you want to be more than just friends/…And we’ll have to just settle for just being friends/Could we really come this far, just to be friends?/We’ve come a long way now, baby, just to be friends”), which is odd coming from O’Rourke, who is usually more inventive and original with his lyrics.  Also, the melody goes on with no key changes or tension whatsoever, making the five minute song drag for what feels like half an hour.  Even the harmonica starts to annoy me towards the end.   Overall,  I do like the story in the song, even if it is drawn out and sort of boring.

One Day In War starts off sounding like “Little Drummer Boy” which has always rubbed me the wrong way, for some reason.  The rest of the song continues on with the same drumming in the background, as O’Rourke sings about war and peace.  This is nice, but as we’ve already covered a similar topic in Man Of Peace, I don’t find this song really necessary in the album.  This track is the stronger of the two, and though I do applaud him for not just singing love songs, perhaps O’Rourke should stick to them, because that’s where he’s strongest.  The lyrics here are good, but don’t make any sort of powerful statement (“Somewhere in the world/There’ll always be war/As long as there is something to fight for/What’s worth fighting for?”), and I can take or leave the track as a whole.    The same goes for Bein’ Your Friend.  The sound is a bit heavier than anything we’ve heard from O’Rourke thus far in his career- electric guitar has replaced the acoustic guitar, and the tune is fast paced and loud.  Though I’ve definitely had friendships like the one described in the lyrics, (“Like running through hell, when you’re trying to find Heaven/Like waiting for the dawn in the middle of the day/…Like losing your job, ‘cause you look so tired from working/That’s what it’s like being your friend/Well the only way you can do it/Is to give just as good as you get/Then you’ll never have to renew it, and you’ll never be in my debt”) the song still lacks to impress me.

However, the album is redeemed with A Song On Love And….  The mid-tempo melody is one of my favorites on the album; the piano, guitar, drums and strings create a lovely melancholy tune, and the chord progression is absolutely perfect.  O’Rourke’s vocals are also great- he explores his lower register and sounds wonderful.  I was listening to this album this weekend with Missy, my best friend who introduced the album to me, and she pointed out the main reason that I love the song is because I’m a writer and the lyrics are all about words.  I had to laugh and agree with her- true, the lyrics are mostly comparisons of opposite words (“Have you ever noticed how some words get stuck together?/…Fire and water/Dark and bright/Summer, winter/Day and night/Never, ever/Now and then/Worse and better/Thick and thin/Well, could it be that love and hate come together hand in hand?/And has this been our fate since the Universe began?/Us and them in an ageless dance/Could we split them up if we had the chance?”), and I suppose it WOULD take a writer to like a song about words, but the song is much more than that and it’s the combination of the thoughtful songwriting, vocal delivery, and melody that I love so much.   Meanwhile, Stay In Sight is a little more simplistic both musically and lyrically, though I do like both the sound and lyrics (“Now that you’ve come into my light/I hope you always stay in sight/Stay in sight”).

For me, the album ends on its two strongest notes.  Silly Days begins quietly, with a lovely string section and piano before going into a beautiful ballad (“It was normal to give your everything to your one and your only/But for us it’s more frequent to be young, free, and lonely/’Cause we live in a world/where the lights of the city/Seem to outshine the light of the stars/And we’re reaching up into the dark”).  Back are O’Rourke’s gorgeous melodies and lyrics and the song is an absolute treat.  The melody then fades into the next track which is an odd, albeit, pretty arrangement of Twinkle Twinkle (yes, Twinkle Twinkle  Little Star).  O’Rourke changes up the lyrics a bit, so that it goes along more with the previous song (“Twinkle twinkle little star, how we’ve wondered what you are/What’s your secrets, I don’t know…”), and though the song is a bit…well, strange…I still like it and the arrangement of piano and strings is quite nice and gives the album a sort of dreamy, lullaby end.

Declan O’Rourke’s second album, Big Bad Beautiful World is very good, though, overall, it’s not as special to me as his first disc.  It feels as though some of the charm has been lost among the polished production, but that’s only for a handful of songs.  As a whole, the album is still a very strong effort, with plenty of beautiful songs.

Rating: 5_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Big Bad Beautiful World
2. Save Your Soul
3. Make Something
4. Whatever Else Happens
5. Man Of Peace
6. Just To Be Friends
7. One Day In A War
8. Bein Your Friend
9. A Song On Love And Hate
10. Stay In Sight
11. Silly Days
12. Twinkle Twinkle


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