Home Read Classic Album Review: Great Big Sea | Something Beautiful

Classic Album Review: Great Big Sea | Something Beautiful

The Celtic folk-popsters deliver their catchiest & most commercial album to date.

This came out in 2004 – or at least that’s when I got it. Here’s what I said about it back then (with some minor editing):


“It’s all brand-new,” claim Great Big Sea on their new disc. That might be stretching it a bit.

These hard-working Celtic folk-popsters haven’t exactly reinvented their musical wheel for their eight album Something Beautiful. But they definitely have shined it up all nice and purty. Produced by Canadian veteran Michael Phillip Wojewoda — perhaps best known for his work with the likes of Barenaked Ladies and Rheostatics — this 13-track set is the most catchy, contemporary and commercial effort of Great Big Sea’s 12-year recording career.

Don’t get me wrong; the strummy acoustic guitars and fiddles and whistles and bodhrans and whatnot are all still here. But they take a very distinct back seat to the crafted pop hooks, singalong choruses, layered harmonies and crisp, radio-ready production of cuts like Shines Right Through Me, When I Am King, Beat the Drum and Sally Ann. Admittedly, none of it sounds bad — but I’d be lying if I said it didn’t also sound calculated.

More satisfying, at least to these ears, is the second half of the disc, when Wojewoda stops trying to help GBS channel BNL and helps them return to their more traditional comfort zone. Here is where you’ll find the simple and pretty ballad Lucky Me; the stark and sombre sailing tale John Barbour; the rambunctious Chafe’s Celidh; and the kitchen-party rink-rat raveup Helmethead. Of course, none of those cuts will probably end up on the radio, while the earlier ones will.

Bottom line: I’m not going to scream sellout at Great Big Sea for wanting to broaden their appeal, or stretch a bit — or even just make a few bucks off a hit single. They’ve earned it. Even so, it’s tough not to think of Something Beautiful as something that could have been better.