Less than two years after the simultaneous release of his last two albums, Dundalk’s Jinx Lennon is back with the 18-track Grow a Pair. This latest collection presents a picture of modern Ireland with all of its problems, personalities and quirks. That’s familiar territory for Lennon fans as he relishes in the ordinariness of Irish towns, exposes hard truths we’d rather not discuss and questions the society we’ve created. And as ever, he does so with a great deal of humour and astutely comic observations.
What I didn’t expect was an entire album of tuneful, melodic songs. Grow a Pair is a marked departure from the intoned, and at times almost shouted, delivery of much of Lennon’s previous work. It’s full of wonderfully catchy songs, belters of choruses that soar up into a register I had no idea he could reach and at times florid ornamentation that reminded me of sean-nos singing.
300 Pianos is the first song from the album to have an accompanying video, which includes an entertaining appearance by fellow straight-talking Dundalk musicians, TPM. One of the most additive sing-along songs on the album, it is a tale of hope and spirit in a small community. Lennon has a knack for conjuring up the most perfect images to describe small-town Ireland in all of its glory and modern decay, as in the opening lines of this track: “I took a walk around my town/ I didn’t like what I saw/ Big ugly sports shops like a cluster of warts on someone’s jaw.”
We move from the rural small town to the countryside (“out here”) in We Don’t see Anything, a tale of blind eyes being turned and one good turn deserving another. It includes the distinctly rural Irish image of a farmer blocking a road with cattle to help someone evade customs officials who are on his trail. The dangers of getting entangled with a Newry Bird, illustrate just how binding those tight community codes can be, as the song warns that 5,000 cousins would appear at your door if you crossed this particular lady.
The title track, Grow a Pair, is a passionate call to stand up for ourselves and those around us who are struggling and hurting, whether that’s someone being abused in public on a bus or regular couples suffering while banks profit on the back of their situation.
The plaintive One Day I Awoke is a warning to us all about excessive consumerism and addictive internet use and the isolation it can breed: “I gathered things because it was easy to do/ And I’d stay up until half past two/ Looking at pictures of exotic things/ But inside my bed my heart would sting/ One day I awoke/One day I woke up/Saw it wasn’t good enough/ To surround yourself with too much stuff.”
We are reminded in Afraid to Open My Mouth, of the ways in which those who come to live in Ireland can also be exploited. It tells the story of immigrants who go to great lengths to move here only to find themselves living in squalid, over-crowded houses, at the mercy of landlords who will kick them out and bring them to the attention of the authorities if they complain. Lennon also takes a swipe at loyalist and nationalists who dwell on the past when there are so many pressing current issues that they could be applying their energy and passion to in The GPO, which features the subtle sound of Uileann pipes in the background. Donald Trump gets a dig too in Silver Spoon, which begins with a recorded quote from the man himself and features the familiar twanging guitar sound of classic American country songs.
The album ends with the surreal Aluminium Can, which is written from the point of view of a discarded can and sung acappella. It is privy to the secrets of the town as it lies in the park next to Dundalk harbour listening to the sound of couple getting drunk, having sex, making plans and cracking up.
Grow a Pair is rousing album, full of addictively memorable songs with clever arrangements. There are lots of unexpected percussive shakes, yelping roars and recorded sound bites that always seem to be added at just the perfect moment to set or heighten the atmosphere. But for me, it’s the lyrics that lift these songs to another level. They are clever, challenging and make you think about the world around you, from the local to the national and global. Jinx Lennon has much to teach us, if only we would listen.
Grow a Pair is an accessible, fun and entertaining introduction to his music for new listeners, and a satisfying, interesting stage on his journey for existing fans.
Grow a Pair was released on Lennon’s Septic Tiger Records label. It is available for purchase as a digital album for €10 and as a CD for €12 here – a bargain for 18 tracks!