Only When I Sleep: The Corrs And Insomnia

During my high school years, one of the many bands I became fond of listening to was the Irish group The Corrs.  During this time, I would occasionally have debates with friends of mine who thought the music of the band to be too sunny and happy, while they preferred to listen to the darker music of The Cranberries, which more openly and obviously acknowledged the political struggles of the Irish people for dignity and peace and honor in the 20th century.  From time to time I have commented on Irish history [1], and most of my comments on the subject are somewhat fierce, especially given my strong identification with the Scot-Irish of Northern Ireland, something which would potentially alienate me from the concerns of the Corrs, who are natives of the Republic of Ireland to the south.  That said, I would like to point out that far from being sunny and blind to the difficulties of their cultural heritage, the Corrs are far more savvy and far more dark than they are often considered to be, and that one of the easiest ways we can understand that is their consistent concern with something that happens to be a bête noire of my own as well, namely sleep.

I have written often and painfully about my own struggles with sleep [2], and it is quite likely that my struggles as a chronic insomniac have made it more easy for me to relate to the deeper importance of sleep and its absence to The Corrs.  After all, they sing about the subject a great deal.  How often?  Well, several of the songs on their album Talk On Corners deal in one way or another with the subject of sleep.  On the album, the Corrs covered the Fleetwood Mac song “Dreams,” which tend to happen during one’s sleep, especially when that sleep is troubled.  On their single “So Young,” the band quips that it doesn’t really matter if they never sleep because they are so young.  On “Queen Of Hollywood” they muse about the dark circles under the eyes of a starlet who leaves her home and her loving boyfriend to become the titular queen of Hollywood.  And on the song “Only When I Sleep,” the Corrs sing about how sleep leads to dreams of someone who tends to fascinate and trouble the narrator.

The fact that four songs from a single album deal with the subject of sleeping and dreaming ought to strike the reader with a great deal of concern, especially since those are not the only songs that provide a bit of context to the Corrs and their relationship to sleep.  On their MTV Unplugged album, the band performed a song, “Radio,” that showed the narrator using a full glass to self-medicate her empty heart about the memory of a former lover who torments her whenever she listens to the songs that remind her of him on the radio.  In “Summer Sunshine,” from the band’s Borrowed Heaven album, the Corrs sing about an experience where the narrator borrowed heaven in “coffee city,” showing the tendency for insomniacs to self-medicate with caffeine to keep themselves awake, while another song on that same album, “Humdrum,” threatens a boring partner with the fate of having the narrator fall asleep before bedtime.  Clearly, the subject of sleep is firmly on the mind of the Corrs throughout their body of work.

What is it that causes the Corrs to have such a hard time with sleep?  Here we leave the realm of certainty and enter the realm of speculation, but even here we can at least ground ourselves in the reasons that the Corrs’ songs themselves give for their struggles with sleep.  At times, their lack of sleep appears to be due to chemical means (as with their reference to caffeine), often in the service of a career.  The Corrs, it should be noted, share with many musicians and entertainers the tendency to struggle with sleep and the need to work long hours in their craft.  For example, over the course of some very long hours at the beginning of the band’s career, they managed to record the video to two of their hit singles, “Forgiven Not Forgotten” and “The Right Time” over the course of a busy couple of days, involving long hours of filming.  Other songs refer to relationship trouble as being the source of tormented sleep, troubled dreams, and struggles with sleep life.

Are there any reasons besides the troubles (or joys, as in “Breathless”) of personal relationships and their career ambitions as musicians that could have haunted the sleep of the Corrs?  Certainly, since the band itself was very conscious of the historical and cultural context of their Irish background?  How do we know the Corrs were sensitive to their heritage?  We know because it was the subject of their music.  Their first album featured as an instrumental the lovely song “The Minstrel Boy,” which dates from the Irish rebellion of 1798.  This was not a one-off.  The band had an entire album, “Home,” that consisted of covers of traditional Irish songs, many of which reflected the themes of exile that have been a large part of the Irish experience.  And lest something think their songs had no relationship to contemporary Irish troubles, their song “No Frontiers” features the longing that heaven knows no frontiers or borders, unlike earth.  Clearly, this band was haunted a great deal, and haunted sensitive people tend to sleep poorly and reflect on the problem of sleep.  It is therefore little to be wondered that the subject appeared so often among the body of work of the Corrs.  It is a greater wonder that people were fooled by their cheery demeanor and did not bother to examine what the Corrs were singing about in the first place, except those who appreciated the message from fellow insomniacs in the common struggle against the cruel robbers of sleep that so many of us face.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
This entry was posted in History, Music History, Musings and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

11 Responses to Only When I Sleep: The Corrs And Insomnia

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