Not quite the marvel...
Clive Rozario

12:47 25th February 2011

Clare Maguire’s debut album ‘Light After Dark’ encompasses the sound of the 80s. It seems most artists have been incorporating a synthy vibe into their recordings over the last couple of years, but whereas those other artists sought to fuse that 80s vibe with their contemporary characteristics to create something fresh, Maguire’s album is – for the most part – a nostalgic throwback. On paper, a nostalgic 80s throwback may sound like a catastrophe, and this album could well have been were it not for that voice.
‘Light After Dark’ is an album of soft rock, laden with subtle synths, unsubtle strings and a powerhouse of a vocal performance – and without Clare’s behemoth of a voice this album would warrant little more than Christmas-present-for-your-Gran fodder. The production is heavy-handed, the orchestration is mostly tacky, and the snippets of synthesizer, although remaining understated, are uninspiring. It’s all very well trying to emulate that 80s-Annie Lennox sound, but without any apparent element of progression it just ends up sounding empty. According to her press release, “these are torch songs for the 21st century, both completely contemporary and utterly timeless”, but sounding like you’re trapped in one decade – the 80s – isn’t a particularly good indication of timelessness.
For those who were captivated by Clare’s rich and naked voice from her MySpace days, or after the BBC starting supporting her last year, fear not as that powerful voice is made as prominent as possible. Forget Adele, forget Goulding – Maguire’s voice is the one with the potential for greatness. It is showcased no better than on the gospel-tinged ballad ‘Bullet’, where her voice is at its rawest – at times even quivering in the same heart wrenching way as Anthony from Anthony and The Johnsons. There’s a trace of the childish frailty of Marina and The Diamonds on ‘Happiest Pretender’, complete with child choir, while the auto-tune and synths on ‘You’re Electric’ are reminiscent of Imogen Heap. ‘Sweet Lie’ – a strings-heavy ballad – has a welcome, darker touch, and is reminiscent of composer Craig Armstrong’s collaboration with Elisabeth Fraser ‘This Love’.
The sultry ‘Ain’t Nobody’, which was released last year, is the best track on the album – a contemporary blues number with plucky strings and impassioned bellowing. New single ‘Last Dance’ – inspired by the death of Michael Jackson – has a touch of the recent Goldfrapp recordings with its pulsating but underwhelming electro-background. However, what lets this track down – and something that lets down the album as a whole – is Maguire’s lyrics, which are fairly cheese-laden (e.g. the repetition of “I got my life in my hands and your love in my heart”). One can’t help but wonder whether a voice of Maguire’s magnitude deserves more than simple, lackluster lyrics about affirming life and love – the major themes of the album.
There are glimpses of an artist willing to push the boundaries of commercial pop music – with most songs flirting with a tiny degree of experimentation – but never quite breaking free of the those constraints; constraints perhaps placed upon her by her producer or her label. Whatever the reasons, the promise of Maguire’s raw talent has been somewhat stifled. The album remains a worthy purchase simply because of her strong voice and those muscular melodies, but it’s not quite the marvel Maguire fans were hoping for.