There was a time when a record company knew no limits when it came to launching a new artist. The debut record would be carefully inserted into an elaborate lacquered folder with a thick pile of press releases and newspaper clippings as a garnish. That was then, and this is now. The music business is broke, with most record companies refusing to spend so much as a stamp to mail you something to review. Now, they direct you to a corporate web site to download your encoded copy. So it tickled my retro bone to receive the full court press on The Script, a barely legal Dublin trio. It turns out that the packaging isn't the only thing that's a throwback. This music on their self-titled album (notice I used the word album - how retro is that?!) is full of riffs and melodies that have an annoying habit of embedding themselves into your brain. There are elements of sixties soul and R&B all over their music, but in keeping with their youth, the songs are produced with enough gimmickry to trick the kids into thinking this is not soul music. "Soul is not a black thing or a white thing, it's a human thing," insists guitarist Mark Sheehan. He is musical partners with Danny O'Donaghue, the lead singer so handsome that he makes you want to grow out the hair above your eyes to imitate his uni-brow. "The true vision is to hit people in the heart." At the risk of uttering something blasphemous, The Script reminds me of U2 when they started out. "Rusty Halo" has the soaring stadium sized riffs and tight drumming that takes you back to Bono's "Boy" period. "Now I'm looking up the Bible/trying to find a loophole/yeah, I'm living for revival, trying to find a new soul/now there's no light to guide me on my way home/there's no time to shine my rusty halo," sings Sheehan. The watery, echoed guitar riff that provides the backbone of "Breakeven" sounds like something from the Edge's tentative playing style. U2 has influenced a generation of artists like Coldplay and The Killers, and the essence of those bands can also be felt in The Script's music. "Sometimes tears say all there is to say/sometimes your first scars won't ever fade away," sings Sheehan in a falsetto that sounds like Chris Martin over a melody that Coldplay would kill to write. But this band doesn't follow the script of bands that came before them. They consistently inject funky drum rolls and tasty bass grooves like those on "If You See Kay" to create a funky, soulful sound that is uniquely their own. Apart from their engaging musical beds, their lyrics are true gems. Lines like "you've got to stand for something or you'll fall for anything" are priceless. What I love about this band is that they can sing lines like "you're the only angel in my life" for the teenage girls without leaving a saccharine Bon Jovi aftertaste in the listener's mouth when they sing along. You may be forgiven for thinking that The Script are an overnight sensation, but the reality is that these twenty-something lads have already lived a lifetime in the music business. O'Donaghue and Sheehan met in their early teens in the run down James Street area of Dublin, near the Guinness brewery, gravitating to each other through a shared obsession with music, and in particular a love of American black music. "At that time, MTV only came on in Dublin after midnight, it was the fuzzy channel, and for my generation black culture was just a wave through us all," explains Sheeran. "It wasn't about gangs and guns; it was fashion and fun, singing and dancing." "One day I heard Stevie Wonder singing and the hairs on the back of my neck went up," says O'Donaghue. "I didn't even know people could sing like that. I'd never heard the acrobatics of it before." He spent years in his bedroom, practicing vocal licks. "I'd try and emulate all those records, even down to string arrangements," he recalls. They first caught the ears of some record buyers when they got drafted into MyTown, a disposable boy band backed by U2's Principle Management in the late nineties. The band may not have reached Westlife status, but the exposure did get them noticed by Dallas Austin, Teddy Riley, The Neptunes and Rodney Jerkins. "It was a wonderful opportunity to see how these guys build songs," admits Sheehan, who says he always carried a little computer drive around and charmed his heroes into swapping libraries of sounds and samples. O'Donaghue and Sheehan spent almost a decade in the States making demos for other artists, but when they met fellow Dubliner, drummer Glen Power, the dynamic shifted. And so The Script went into production. They soon hooked up with drummer Power as they attempted to return to the limelight. They moved back to Dublin when Sheehan's mother became terminally ill, and the songs on their debut album would find inspiration from that unfortunate circumstance and the sudden death of O'Donaghue's father. "Amidst all this travesty and disaster, these songs have risen out of it," reasons O'Donaghue. "That was the time when it finally came home to me how important music was to me, because in my darkest moments that's what got me through." The trio's debut single, "We Cry," was released by Phonogenic/ SonyBMG in April 2008 overseas and reached number 13 in the U.K. charts the following month. From there, the successes keep coming. They reached multi-platinum sales in both Ireland and the U.K. since the album was released in August, and thanks to a major marketing campaign on Epic Records, American domination is a certainty. Their songs are featured on the VH1 hit show "Sober House" and CBS, Epic's parent, is featuring them on the "Ghost Whisperer" program. The band certainly has their critics, however. Some in and around Dublin have accused them in blogs of not being Irish enough; they cite The Thrills as a band that retained its roots while branching into classic rock. O'Donaghue addressed this head on during a recent interview with Hot Press. "What is Irish music anyway?" he asks. "I love Christy Moore. To me he's a rapper - he's one of the best rappers in the world. I love Aslan - they express themselves with great accuracy. I'm really into The Coronas and I think The Blizzards are really good as well. "But in the middle of that you have the Republic of Loose - I love what they're doing. Is that 'Irish'? Mary Black hits me in the heart. I love that kind of stuff as well and I love the differences between all of those artists. "Everyone I know in Dublin listens to pop music. They love their Coldplay, their Kanye West, Justin Timberlake or their U2 - they love all that stuff. I think we are absolutely a reflection of that new Ireland." Welcome to the new Ireland, folks, in all of its retro glory. I haven't been this excited about a group in many moons, and I'd hang a poster of them on my wall like a schoolgirl if I could only stand the mocking from my friends. Their debut album is available on iTunes and the major online outlets now, with the hard copy CD making its debut on March 17.
No Irish Need Apply? Not anymore