Reekus Records – 2001 – 45 minutes

As front man with 1980s Dublin band the Blades, Paul Cleary received the sort of critical kudos which can only mean one thing: few listened to their albums, the band failed to overcome commercial limbo, and the entire operation imploded. By the dawn of the 1990s, Cleary had turned his back on the music scene and found himself making a living setting quiz questions.

After last year's re-release of the Blades' back catalogue, Cleary returns with this, his first new material in 15 years. Eleven solid pop songs about love, loss and regret, 'Crooked Town' is proof that the strengths that marked Cleary out as a skilled songwriter remain unsullied. Patience, however, is needed.

The first impression is of a collection of pop songs that are too fragile to make a lasting impact. Yet with repeated listening, it's hard not to appreciate the delicate craftsmanship of the songs. The spleen venting of the title track and the exploration of the vicious vagaries of love on 'The Same Face' are the album's lyrical standouts; only 'Liberty Hall' will call for swift use of the skip function.

It's arguable whether or not the arrangements do the songs justice, and the album's 80s tone might alienate some listeners. For everyone else, however, this is a welcome return.

Tom Grealis

Tracklisting: The Queen Of Indecision – Crooked Town – A Man Without Love – The Ghost Of Christmas Past – When We Had A Future – State Of Confusion – Ask Awesome Orson (Rosebud) – The Same Face – Liberty Hall – Lullaby – Ecstasy Blues