No matter how hard you try, it's very difficult not to hear 'Strict Joy' as some kind of Irish version of Fleetwood Mac's break-up album 'Rumours'. But this record was always destined to play through either a happy or sad filter in the listener's head and the danger with both was that the back-story would give Glen Hansard and Markéta Irglová a pass if the songs didn't come up to scratch. They do.
There may be questions for some about sequencing and pacing (lots of slow songs together), but 'Strict Joy' features some of the best things the duo have ever written. Highlights of their August National Concert Hall show, 'Low Rising', 'Feeling the Pull', 'Fantasy Man', 'High Horses' and 'Back Broke' are just as magical on headphones as they are in a big room and while other tracks require more work, what you put in is what you get out. Given the attention that's come their way since a certain night in February 2008, Hansard and Irglová have done a remarkable job of drowning out the nonsense and putting the music first.
"If everything is measured by the hole it leaves behind," sings Irglová on 'Fantasy Man', "then this mountain has been levelled and there's no more diamonds in the mine." Please keep digging.