Slaughtered daughters and airbrushed colleens

Iron Maiden | Shepherd's Bush Empire, London The Corrs | NEC, Birmingham
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The Independent Culture

What will London look like in 2050? Thus ponders the row of Time Out ads in the street outside the Empire. The answer, according to Iron Maiden's painted backdrop, is a grey cityscape dominated by globular balustrades, overlooked by a demonic, wrinkled face in the sky.

What will London look like in 2050? Thus ponders the row of Time Out ads in the street outside the Empire. The answer, according to Iron Maiden's painted backdrop, is a grey cityscape dominated by globular balustrades, overlooked by a demonic, wrinkled face in the sky.

What will Iron Maiden look like in 2050? Probably much the same as they do now, bar a little less hair and a few more demonic wrinkles. Change in the world of Iron Maiden is slow and incremental: with every passing year, Bruce Dickinson looks a little more like Bill Oddie, and there's a touch of the Still Crazys about watching fortysomethings like the Spandex-panted Janick Gers swinging his axe behind his back, or Steve Harris pulling shoot-you-dead poses with his bass (held on with an Alf Garnettesque Hammers scarf). Poignantly, even Eddie, their giant, red-eyed, fright-wigged zombie mascot, is now bald and clad in tartan. Comes to us all.

Maiden's audience could use an image makeover too - tight jeans and Dunlop Green Flash sneakers wasn't a good combo at Donington 1980, less so now, and while Dickinson sports a black vest and a pair of Lonsdale shorts, it's the band's sole concession to the Nu-Metal era. Iron Maiden inhabit a world where Limp Bizkit don't exist yet, and I think I want to join them. They may never be loved in the way that, say, Sabbath or AC/DC are loved, but the wall-to-wall smiles and gleeful devil signs of the Maidenheads are infectious.

If Old Metal's staple diet was Sex and Satanism, Iron Maiden have always taken a very "No thanks, we're British" attitude to the former. With the exceptions of "Women in Uniform" and "Bring your Daughter to the Slaughter" (apparently a euphemism for fellatio), Maiden target that peculiarly prepubescent mindset which shuns the company of girls on the grounds that they've got the lurgies. Instead, they specialise in the stuff of Boys' Own pulp fiction: Spitfire pilots, nuclear armageddon, Red Indians (not "Native Americans"; in Maiden's minds they're definitely "Injuns") and devil worshippers. And they're still at it: the first track on the new album is called "The Wicker Man".

The weirdest thing is that they are not, actually, all that loud - not in the pin-you-to-the-wall, instant-tinnitus sense. The volume's no higher than, say, a Savage Garden gig. You can hear yourself think - even hold a conversation. Perhaps the Maiden are gamely staving off the inevitable day when they stop rockin' like muthas, and start rockin' like your mum.

If your mum was rockin' anywhere this week, it was probably at a Corrs gig. And your dad, and your little sister - this being a family show to which you can bring your daughter without any danger of slaughter.

The shorthand wisdom on The Corrs - three Monica Gellers and a Ross - is that they have done for Irish folk what The Dixie Chicks have done for bluegrass: that is, made it palatable to people who would instinctively run to the hills at the sight of a fiddle. And made it sexy. (Andrea Corr, in case you hadn't heard, is Officially Pretty, and her image sits alongside airbrushed paintings of red Lamborghinis on the bedroom walls of thousands of boys who are at That Awkward Age.)

The reality, however, is that much of their set consists of Eighties-style soft rock, redolent of espadrilles and jackets with the sleeves rolled up (the merchandise stall is doing a brisk trade in leather blouson jackets of the kind unseen since the heyday of Lovejoy). Close your eyes when Andrea is cooing professionally and sister Caroline is pounding out those tub-thumping foursquare arena rock beats, and it could be Belinda Carlisle or Heart.

Then, suddenly, three quarters of the way through each song, Andrea whips out a tin whistle, Sharon gives it some elbow grease on the violin, and Caroline drops her drumsticks and bashes the bodhran. In context, it feels every bit as incongruous, tacked-on and artificial as the fiddle breaks that garnish each B*Witched single.

The Corrs - or, being fair, The Corrs' "people" - are flogging a contrived version of Irishness as patronising and sentimental as anything you'll see in a beer commercial - the same clichés of "all the Irish stuff" invoked by Alan Partridge while cack-handedly attempting to impress an Irish production company: "leprechauns, shamrocks, Guinness, horses running through council estates, toothless simpletons, people with eyebrows on their cheeks, badly-Tarmaced drives, men in platform shoes being arrested for bombings, lots of rocks, and Beamish."

Even the title of their breakthrough album, Talk On Corners, pushes those same buttons, invoking a place where you could still leave your door open and the local women would swap friendly tittle-tattle in the street; a fantasy which has been lucratively lapped up by English suburbanites who would inform the Neighbourhood Watch if a stranger actually talked to them on the corner. Especially if they had an Irish accent.

The case for the defence, then. The Corrs can't help being beautiful (Andrea has eyes like Beverly Hills swimming pools, and Sharon is Liz Hurley with dimples). They've paid their dues, they can play their instruments (as demonstrated by the proper Irish jig which precedes their Lloyds-TSB jingle, "What Can I Do to Make You Love Me?"). Their souped-up cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams", although it misses the magic of Stevie Nicks' ruminant bleat, is pleasant enough. There's nothing demonstrably evil about them, nothing to spook those council estate horses. The Corrs mean no harm, and do none. But what did they do to make you love them?

The Corrs: Westpoint Arena, Exeter (01392 446000), Mon and Tue; SECC, Glasgow (0141 248 3000), Thur and Fri