Review Summary: All the vocal talent in the world cannot win when faced with the forces of studio suffocation.
Every full blooded man can appreciate expressions of raw power. Be it a crunching contact sports tackle or a V12 with the throttle open it awakes the primal urges. But what happens if this power is unfocused or simply on display for the sake of it? You end up with zero satisfaction broken limbs and split engine blocks all over the shop. This is the wall which “Light after Dark” the debut album from Brummy native Clare Maguire runs into.
That she is blessed with a formidable voice isn’t in doubt, indeed the album is more than eager to show it off, but all the high range howl on the planet isn’t enough to disguise the pro tooled gimmickry backing it up. Initially snapped up after a major label bidding war all the way back in those heady days of 2008 it appears the intervening time was spent keeping Miss Maguire firmly under wraps while the label handlers closely studied the pop scene and worked out a suitable vehicle for her talents. In the end they appear to have decided the best fit would be a mish mash of Florence and the Machine the most maudlin displays on X Factor and a dash of Annie Lennox.
Not to say that some of the album cuts don’t work well when taken on separately. Tunes like the rollicking “The Shield and the Sword” rides by on a double whammy of vocal and piano synchronicity while “Ain’t Nobody” achieves a delicious undercurrent of evil that makes me wonder did it sneak onto the album when the producers were out to lunch. “Freedom” would be another track worthy of praise although more for the simply selfish reason that I’m a sucker for over the top chorus lines. Too much of this in one go however ends up having a diminishing effect and the record defaults to the position of Maguire blaring out at the top of her lungs to repetitive drum beats and canned loops. When the album does decide to take a break and slow down affairs it’s even worse and ends up sounding like something off an edgy Sharon Boyle recording. The utter nadir being the album closer “This is Not the End” which wades about in such an emotionally plastic torpor that when they clone Princess Diana and she once again dies in an accident they'll have it play at the funeral.
Chuck off the slower numbers, muddy up the production a tad and let Maguire experiment a bit and you have the makings of a great pop album here. Indeed the solid start that has been made chart wise in her native UK means she will have another bite at the cherry soon enough. Break These Chains Maguire laments on the track of the same name. Hopefully next time they listen.