By Ryan Grace (Ireland)
John Carney reignites the harmonious sound of the 80’s in his latest drama-musical, Sing Street. Set in the heart of Dublin City, this coming-of-age drama recounts the tale of Conor Lalor, an introverted teenager who tackles his issues of love, a strained family-life and the brutality of a new school by forming a band. Amplified by an inspired cast of newcomers, Carney’s latest film showcases the formidable force of using music as a tool of expression and escapism. Sing Street boasts an impressive array of original Pop music, which sits surprisingly comfortably amongst a compilation of 80’s household names including; Duran Duran, The Cure, A-ha and Spandau Ballet. Despite relying upon the heavily recycled ‘let’s make a band’ premise, Carney is ultimately successful in delivering a fun and heart-warming story, all the while achieving a balance between 80’s nostalgia and the timeless concept of musical catharsis.
Dublin-born writer and director John Carney has engaged audiences within the world of independent filmmaking for over two decades. Perhaps most notable for the Academy Award winning drama-musical Once (2007) starring Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová, Carney first rose to prominence as the bassist for Irish rock band The Frames, before turning his attention to the big screen. Since then his work has included the hard-hitting drama On the Edge (2001) starring Cillian Murphy as well as the popular Irish TV series Bachelors Walk (2001-2003). However Carney’s most esteemed projects have all centred around the idea of a musical voyage. Following the global success of Once, he released the star-studded Begin Again (2013) which follows the life of a struggling singer-songwriter (Keira Knightly) in New York City. Sing Street marks the third instalment of this loosely-based trilogy, confirming Carney’s passion and ability for musical storytelling.
Co-written by none other than Bono and The Edge of U2, as well as Ken and Carl Papenfus of Northern Irish rock band Relish, the music of Sing Street mirrors a variety of prominent genres and styles throughout the 80’s. Conor’s older brother Brendan acts as the infinite source of musical knowledge. His teachings during Top of the Pops as well as his prescribed “homework” of analysing his extensive record collection provide the basis of Conor’s musical direction as well as the prominent muse in his compositional style. Conor’s immediate infatuation with love interest Raphina inspires the majority of the lyrical content and subject matter for the band. The combination of this fraternal influence and romantic catalyst allows Sing Street to reach a balance between duplicating the 80’s progressive sound whilst staying true and sentimental to the film’s narrative. This can be seen in the band’s first song The Riddle of the Model. Having been recently introduced to the music of Duran Duran, Conor and bandmate Eamon replicate this alternative Bowie-esque sound while describing the complexity and uncertainty surrounding Raphina.
As Conor’s relationship with Raphina grows and develops so too does the band’s dynamic. His songwriting becomes increasingly more personal and intimate, allowing the audience to view the protagonist in his most vulnerable and transparent state. The acoustic guitar and uplifting chorus in their song Up bears a striking resemblance to the anthemic style of U2. While the block piano chords and overpowering vocal presence in To Find You is not unlike the Stadium-Rock ballads associated with Bon Jovi. From here Sing Street progresses once more, this time to the “Happy/Sad” realm of Indie-Pop. One listen to the melancholic liquid guitars and eerie keyboard melodies of The Cure and Conor instantly identifies with their movement of isolation. This prompts the infectious new song A Beautiful Sea which would sit content amongst the aesthetic catalogue of The Smiths or Joy Division.
Sing Street’s final act gives a nod to the empowering Punk-Rock scene throughout the 80’s as well as a glimpse into the emerging Alt-Rock escapade of the late 80’s and 90’s. The band’s first live gig at the end of term disco provides a fitting platform for Conor to unveil two new songs, Girls and Brown Shoes which attack the complexity of relationships and totalitarian nature of Synge Street C.B.S. respectively with a raw and relentless energy. This newfound confidence and liberation in Conor’s songwriting can also be found in the band’s definitive track Drive It Like You Stole It, a libertine’s anthem that encourages living life to the fullest.
Does the music of Sing Street reach the Academy recognised status of Once or Begin Again? Probably not. But ultimately it provides us with the endearing rollercoaster ride of a teenager in distress, a nostalgic throwback to the 80’s as well as another successful notch in the belt of John Carney’s musical features.