Tipped for 2011 stardom by pundits aplenty, 22 year old Birmingham songstress Clare Maguire would seem to have the musical world on her shoulders as she releases her debut album Light After Dark. The surrounding hype of rumoured label bidding squabbles apparantly involving Jay-Z and Rick Rubin, a slew of celebrity admirers (Plan B, Hurts, Rumer, Marina Diamandis) and the fact that Jarvis Cocker is said to have offered her a song; has done wonders for Clare Maguire’s reputation, but can Light After Dark live up to such dizzy hype?
Intro track ‘Are You Ready?’ sets us out on atmospheric beginnings, as it bubbles with otherworldly promise through underwater heartbeats rippling with Maguire’s haunting wolfish howls. The actual songs proper kick off with ‘The Shield and The Sword’, perhaps this year’s ‘Dog Days Are Over’, which is littered with feel good foot stomping drums, strings and a catchy chorus melding with Maguire’s soon to be trademark deep Annie Lennox-esque growl. It’s all interspersed with some disco/house infusion.
Radio friendly single ‘The Last Dance’, is a standout track that is the aural equivalent of Lennox, Shakespears Sister and Kate Bush making merry at a tea-party. Danceworthy drum beats and powerful vocals with a smattering of synths make for a surefire hit that will inevitably enjoy some serious overplay on the airwaves.
‘Freedom’ demonstrates Maguire’s vocal capabilities with a departure from the deepness of the vocals on previous tracks to some more strident strainings. It retains an indie-pop dance sensibility of the Adele/Florence school but between some tedious bleeps and Pro Tools tomfoolery, it sometimes borders on sounding vaguely like a better version of any Cascada song (expect an Ibiza remix in a few weeks). Much the same can be said of ‘I Surrender’.
On ‘Bullet’, the seemingly ever versatile Maguire shifts effortlessly from Eurythmics to Tracy Chapman-style vocals, also found on ‘Break these Chains’, sounding clear over a series of pounding drums, string and piano arrangements with a nicely ballad at the heart of its crescendo. This is one track that will most likely make it to the heartbreaking, life or death scenes in a certain US hospital drama.‘The Happiest Pretenders’ plinks pleasantly with an ’80s ‘xylophone’ and piano intro, launching into biting vocals with a sense of urgency which try all too hard at times to mimic the dulcet warblings of Kate Bush.
‘You’re Electric’ shimmers with synth and soulful bleatings laced with compulsion .This emotive release is carried through in the superb ‘’Ain’t Nobody’ with its ballsy belting vocals and burning lyrics, “meet me in the red sky and dance with me”; coupled with barely there bluesy guitar, unrelenting synth effects and pulsating drums.
‘This is Not the End’, offers a surprising close to the album which could perhaps be a homage to Maguire’s Irish roots; a haunting sean-nós track with some hushed strings playing, er, second fiddle to her voice.
As first albums go, Maguire delivers a fairly safe package; purloining the vocal styles of ’80s icons with those of her peers. It’s hardly groundbreaking, it doesn’t live up to the hype; but Light After Dark provides some much needed positive vibes that will surely bring a little bit of light to your life . . . . . even if it does mean listening to it in the dark.