Pop: Dream a tiny dream

THE CORRS

CARDIFF INTERNATIONAL ARENA

IT'S TEMPTING to look for sociological reasons for the incredible commercial success of the Dundalk sibling combo - best-selling recording artists of 1998, with an album that's about to go octuple-platinum (that's eight times 300,000). Is it due to a symbolic reassertion of good old- fashioned family values, the enduring appeal of all things Irish, or the group's canny positioning in the newly resurgent pop market as a contemporary equivalent to the AOR of Seventies Fleetwood Mac, only without the marital strife and heavy rock pretensions?

The answer, however, appears to be far more simple: The Corrs are very attractive, very very good and fairly undemanding, which can be a devastating combination when coupled with the resources of a mega-corp record company. Traditional Irish instruments lend a welcome human feel to the digital thumps of the group's borrowing from dance music - which are more chip shop than hip hop - and they sing real songs with real voices in a very appealing way. But could they big up their live act to fill an arena? And, more seriously, could they make you forget that parody on French and Saunders' Christmas special, where The Corrs were shown as clones?

That they succeeded on both counts so emphatically was due not only to their considerable personal charm but to their prowess as musicians. Lead singer Andrea doesn't just look gorgeous on the video screens; she plays a mean penny whistle. Sister Caroline whacks the drum kit with all the conviction of Prince's Sheila E, and Sharon's fiddle playing would not be disgraced in the best west of Ireland traditional music bars. And brother Jim? Not only is he loved by all the girls in the audience, and their mums, a solo spot playing a traditional air on piano showed he was not just a pretty face.

While the response of the audience to all this was muted to begin with, the onset of some anthemic double-time fiddling provokes outbreaks of riverdancing. When the lights are flashed in the audience's faces it's the cue for wholesale jigs and reels. By the last number - the cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Dreams" - everyone is on their feet. For the first encore, all hands are raised.

While the mechanics of arena performance perhaps inevitably tends towards the Pavlovian, the response The Corrs get really does seem to be due to the stimulus of their impeccably professional performance, and not just a given. The venue might be dehumanised, but they are not.

A second encore of another traditional reel emphasises the group's by now rather urbanised folk roots, and it's a very happy crowd that leaves for home. But while The Corrs are genuinely talented and their performance undeniably impressive, by the end of the evening a cynic might feel that the overall menu they offer is just too sweet, smooth and anodyne for all but the most democratic of tastes. I left yearning for something harsh, nasty and dirty all the way home.

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