No Second Chances
The track, No Second Chances, is available via:
18th August, 2018
THIS review gives me the chance…
to look at a few sides of the music industry. I will talk about Robert O’Connor in a bit but I wanted to look at the music industry in general and how being independent can take your music in a more personal and less stressful direction. I want to investigate Nashville-influenced sounds and blending Country and Singer-Songwriter sounds; transitioning from non-musical jobs into music; recording music to phone and being struck by inspiration on-to-go – I will finish by looking at O’Connor and where he is going to head. One of the things that strike me about Robert O’Connor is the fact he has had a bit of a varied and interesting time the past few years. That actually does a disservice to the hurdles he has overcome and what he has faced. Only this year, O’Connor returned to music after a five-year hiatus. I am not sure the exact circumstances behind the split and why O’Connor went away and came back to music. It seems like dealing with major labels and dodgy deals meant the music was going in a direction he felt unhappy with. The effect of having to deal with a lot of shady characters and being told what to write meant he stepped away and needed time to reflect. It is always assumed signing with a big label and having an A&R body behind you means everything will be taken care of and you will be fine. I know artists get to have their own say in any situation but it feels like there is so much mobility and flexibility being independent and guiding your own career. That is not to say O’Connor had all bad times when he was dealing with labels but it seems like he was being put in a hole that did not suit him. Maybe his music was being sold as commercial or it was going to be pointed more towards Pop and that avenue of music.
There is always a risk you take when you sign with a label or have to deal with outside forces. I feel there is that divide between going alone and signing with someone who will listen and allow some form of creative expression. In O’Connor’s case; he took a few years out of music and wanted to rebuild after having a bad time. He has returned and is answering to nobody. Now, after a couple of singles, you can hear the differences – between what he is producing now and before – and there is a lot more ease and pleasure coming from the speaker. He has teamed with producer Stuart Gray and Steve Hogan. O’Connor needed a team he felt comfortable around and was not going to go down the same road as before. After assembling the small team; two singles were produced and recording went down in Country Meath. O’Connor, after that, hustled and has been getting his music out to the people. Maybe it takes more effort and personal commitment now – the songwriter is calling his own shots and has recorded songs that he wants to. I shall come to the sound of the music and where O’Connor might head but it is good to see him continuing and not soured by the experiences he had before. Previous single, You Found Me, was launched on radio across Europe, the U.K. and Ireland; many compared the song to the likes of R.E.M. and Fleetwood Max – it was a hit and showed the gamble had paid off. The single I am reviewing, No Second Chances, was written four years ago and produced at Jealoustown. Things are on the rise and it seems like he has found his path. It is not to say signing a record deal will lead to trouble but one must be prepared for a certain amount of negotiation, compromise and balance. The labels sign you because they have a vision of your music – this may not sit with your impressions and what you want to do. Being independent can be a lot of hard days but it means you have the chance to take your music where you want and not be constrained regards genre/sound.
O’Connor is making plans to remodel his back catalogue and shape it how he wants to. Rather than keep things how it is and have a split between his new sounds and what came before; he wants to do a bit of a Paul Simon and take the songs back into the studio. A lot of artists rework their songs and feel they need to be seen in a new light – Kate Bush has done it – and I can understand why O’Connor wants to do this. Right now; he is pushing his songs into a more Nashville area. He calls his latest single ‘Nearly Nashville’ and it is a flavour of the U.S. that is for sure. I am seeing more and more artists inspired by what is coming from the Tennessee city. You get some British strands with No Second Chances but there is a twang of the Nashville. It is great to see how O’Connor has changed and evolved since his early days. I am glad he is taking this direction more than a mainstream Pop one. I do not mind some of the artists going down that route but there are big Pop names that rely on the easiest course and produced music devoid of soul, appeal and originality. That would be an easy way to go and I am glad he is taking a more sophisticated and fulsome approach. I wonder whether O’Connor will keep down this path and continue to write Nashville-inspired songs. The reason I wanted to talk about this side of music is how American Country is spreading quite a lot in the U.K. We are always told the British Country scene is a bit embarrassing and nothing to get excited about. Whilst we do not have a base like Nashville or an industry that has a tonne of great Country acts; we have some brilliant homegrown artists who are taking in U.S. sounds and blending it with something individual. I feel the Country scene will build here and become more authoritative. We do not quite have the weather and scenery of Nashville but I can understand why people are leaning towards that side of the world.
A lot of Country artists talk about love but do so in a very emotive way. That may sound like a cliché of the genre but modern artists are not as wracked and dramatic as all that. Look at modern Country-Pop artists like Kacey Musgraves and you can see and hear plenty of life in the music. There is a sense of polish and energy that matches lyrics packing punch and personal pride. The songwriter is one of the finest examples out there of what can happen when you mix Pop and Country together. Robert O’Connor’s sound is slightly different but he could move in that sort of direction. I would love to see whether he goes in a more Folk-based place or he integrates Pop inside of Country. I really like the Country scene and feel there is a split between the U.K. and U.S. I can also imagine O’Connor spending some time in Nashville and recording over there. I know he is mega-busy right now but it might be worth spending a few weeks over that way and soaking in all the flavours and vibes happening over there.
The idea O’Connor has now is to create timeless classics and not a quick-hit sort of song. He does not want to be seen as a disposable artist and have his music digested and then forgotten about. Maybe that was the problem he had before thing: he was writing stuff that appealed to commercial radio stations and intended not to challenge the imagination that much. A lot of artists do that in order to get popularity and tick boxes. It is understandable why they do that – so they get a big fanbase and can do well on streaming sites – but there is more value and worth to be found when you take a bit more time and write music that is meaningful to you. O’Connor took that break away from music and returned with a desire to do things how he wanted and record music that has that timeless quality. The media has been responding to his new work and the Irish songwriter looks set to get his music to new lands and territories. One can hear leaps and changes with every single but it feels like a Nashville sound suits him. In terms of themes, his latest single is more complex than sheer heartbreak and split. A lot of Country/Singer-Songwriters create something quite simple and predictable and it can be quite draining listening to that type of song. In the case of O’Connor; he has penned a song that goes through stages – the heroine not feeling the love and wanting to walk and him wanted her back near the end. The fact she offers no second chances mean he is walking on thin ice but, when he thinks about things, he feels he can be different and better. It is commendable he wants to produce material that is more substantial and remains longer. He does not want to have his songs heard and then forgotten about like so many artists do. Instead, he is penning tracks that have a lot of depth and you can hear the hard work and determination in every note.
Before I look ahead and how O’Connor is writing now; it is worth looking at how he has transitioned and got into music. A lot of people might think, if you are in a non-musical job, it is hard to get into the business and succeeding. O’Connor used to work as a journalist but, one day, got a call and was told they (employers) could no longer pay him. He was faced with the challenge of transitioning from one career and trying to get back on his feet. That brings me to the lack of money in music journalist but, right now, I shall stay focused and concentrate on that side of things another day. After that, he became a security guard and, as he said, that enriched his songwriting skillset. He met all sorts of characters and people who he had never met before. A lot of excesses and some trouble; all walks of life and a variety of humans came his way and, because of that, he was given plenty to write about. I am not saying doing jobs like that are perfect if you want to spark a new songwriting fuse but it is a good way of broadening your horizons. A lot of songwriters do full-time jobs and it is tough balancing working full-time and concentrating on music. In O’Connor’s case; he moved between jobs – becoming an estate agent after that – and thought he would never be back in music again. O’Connor sells houses part-time and mixes two very different worlds. It is strange to think of the man in a suit and formal during the day and then with a guitar during the evening and performing songs to the crowds. Anyone who feels they cannot succeed in music and make impressions if they are working in other areas should take heart. O’Connor, himself, admits his C.V. is pretty varied and full. It looks like he has been restless and impulsive but, in truth, he was trying to adapt after being disappointed by dodgy music deals and being let down.
I wonder whether O’Connor will continue working part-time – one hopes his career takes off and he does not need to. It interests me how occupations and different industries can actually be inspiring for songwriters. I have been working in various office jobs – all crap – but your mind is free to work and conspire when doing those jobs. They are never too challenging, always boring, but you get to meet all types of people and it massages various areas of the imagination. Regarding O’Connor and his plight; he has worked in eclectic areas of the working world and that sort of feeds into his material. I can understand why he has jumped a bit and was not sure what he wanted to do after his music career sort of hit a bad patch. Now, as he is back and looking ahead, I think he will have to dedicate more time to his career and, let’s hope, he is afforded the chance to play without needing to work. It can be hard balancing work and music but I feel O’Connor has a bright future. I think he will be able to spend time in the U.S. and, who knows, maybe relocate there in time. His new sounds are gathering a lot of pace and popularity so it cannot be long until big gigs are coming in and he is on a roll. Right now, he is getting back on tracks and guiding his music career in his own vision. I am excited for him and, already, he has lived quite an interesting life! His story should give guidance to those who are struggling with A&R teams and bad record labels. It is possible to walk away from music and return with new impetus and spirit. I feel Robert O’Connor will continue to build as an artist and produce a lot more material. I am backing the man to go all the way and impressed how far he has come. The spirit he has shown and the belief he has in himself is inspiring, that is for certain. Where he goes not is up to him.
There is a lot of modesty when it comes to O’Connor and how he writes. Like U.S. Popstars such as Charlie Puth; he lays down ideas in voice memos on his phone. Rather than get into the studio and set time aside to write; he will put sketches and little ideas down and work on them later. Whilst I am against technology a lot and how we get hooked on our phones; they are really useful when it comes to capturing ideas and preserving imaginative ideas. A lot of songwriters do not write stuff down and they lose potentially huge hits. It is vital that any idea, whether good or bad, is kept and it can turn into something fantastic. The latest track from O’Connor, No Second Chances, sees the hero ready to walk out of a relationship and reaching the end of the road. He then, by the chorus, remembers the heroine saying she gives no second chances (or was it him?!) and he ends up asking her to take him back. It is a complex and vivid song – as I shall explore – that sounds like it came together in various stages. Maybe it is based on previous relationships but it has a story-like arc that is unexpected and unpredictable. You do not know where the song is going and it takes the senses away. I can imagine O’Connor jotted down some voice notes at various times and pieced it together after that. I wonder whether he could have created the song from scratch and without his phone. It is interesting to see how a lot of artists write and how technology can aid them. O’Connor found the note for his latest song from 2014 and sort of picked it back up. It is great we can preserve songs and ideas – it might have been lost without his phone and that could have been a big loss.
I was keen to explore No Second Chances and what it is all about. O’Connor was not wrong when he said he was going in a more Country direction. It is great you get some reliable and familiar sounds come through and strike the heart. There is that Country-fried yearning and straining of the instruments. You get twang and the sounds of the American South come through. We are instantly transported to the U.S. and following our man down the road. When O’Connor comes to the microphone, he talks about his situation and how things should be different. It is great to see O’Connor’s voice blend against the high-pitched and sun-kissed guitars. He has a low and commanding voice that nicely contrasts and you get the heat of the background and a nice clash. The deep and impressive vocal talks about having his heart lent out and being in the girl’s hands. Things should be changing but it seems like they are the same. Maybe they have been together a while and it was hoped things would bloom and grow. Maybe a more serious commitment and a feeling they were heading somewhere. I get the sense there is a rough patch where they are going through the motions right now. What gets to me, early, is the sense of regret and how things seem defeated. He is never deflated but O’Connor seems like he reached the end and wants something new. That said; when he talks about his heart being played with, you get the sense he has invested a lot and trying to work out where things can be improved. The production is warm and polished but that does not bleed the soul from the song. Instead, you get a professional and lush arrangement that has cinematic grandeur and bristling emotion. The songwriter sings about walking away and not being able to unknow the heroine. Our man says it is too hard to be apart and wonders whether they can come back.
He asks whether there is another chance – she said there would never be – and it seems like he has not given up completely. The verse sees the hero ready to quit and start afresh but the chorus hopes reconciliation and improvement will come about. It is nice seeing the heart come through in the chorus and him having that determination. I wonder what provoked the break-up and how they have got to this stage. It is quite sad seeing things fall apart and break. I guess they had a great thing going but something has happened to throw a spanner in the works. I am interested in songs that look at relationships and how they break up. Although O’Connor does not reveal the exact circumstances; he wants to recapture that spark and knows not all is lost. You are caught in the swell and spirit of the song and hope things will come back together. His heart holds on to hope and is unable to move past what he is. He sits at home alone at night and dims the light; he puts his favourite songs on wonders what happened. He wants to get back on track and begin again – regretting what has happened and knowing things are through. Electric guitar strains and aches as the hero rushes the words and gets out his plea. You can imagine him in the dark and trying to find wisdom in music. He is trying to put the story back in a good light but it seems like the best days are gone. That desire to keep anything alive and find some compromise is impressive. The impassioned vocal keeps you invested and the composition is tight yet expressive. There are Country elements alongside Blues licks and excellent production. It is a focused and nuanced song that hits you right away and will keep you coming back. I am not sure how things worked out between the sweethearts but there is a sense of friction that has hit the hero pretty hard. There are some great instrumental breaks and plenty of movement in the song. It goes through cycles and stages and you are compelled at every avenue. I rooted for the hero and I feel like things have been a bit strained. Maybe he is to blame in some form but he is trying to get everything started again and repaired. Whether that happens is yet to be seen. Let’s hope they reached some form of agreement and there is hope for the relationship.
I am pleased Robert O’Connor is back on the rise and entering a new phase of his career. The man has had a tough time and the last few years have been defined by transition and changes. He is looking ahead and I think there will more singles and E.P.s coming down the tracks. Things are getting better and O’Connor is making music how he feels fit. Maybe his time with labels and dodgy dealers has soured him but, as I intimated, he is re-recording some of his older stuff. I am looking forward to that and I cannot wait to see where he goes next. His material has always been exciting so I am curious whether he will stick with a Country sort of sound or whether there will be more Folk and Pop elements mixed into the blend. Let’s look ahead and where the songwriter might head. I feel there will be some great gigs coming up and he could definitely do well in London. No Second Chances is a fantastic cut from the songwriter and proof he is on fantastic form right now. I am looking ahead for him and wonder whether he has plans to go to the U.S. I feel the American market would be a great fit for him and he could pick up lots of influence when it comes to Nashville. I know he will continue to work hard and get his music to the people. O’Connor is great when it comes to promotion and never rests. Radio stations and websites are reacting to what he is putting out and it is an exciting time for him. He is active on social media and keen to update the fans. That is quite rare to see with modern artists. A lot of people let things go and it can be hard to see what an artist is up to and what they are about. Even some mainstream stars like Bat for Lashes (Natasha Khan) have been off Twitter for a long time – that sounds random but I wonder what has happened to her! The songwriter is busy getting his music far and wide and I know next year will be his biggest yet. O’Connor has battled with the worst of the industry but he is back now and in great form. No Second Chances is a sign of where he is now and an artist doing things his own way. Long may this continue and I hope big demands come his way. Surely that cannot be too far away and I predict, by this time next year, the Irish songwriter will be…
ON the edge of something phenomenal.
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