The last few years have seen a string of home grown female singers sneak their way onto the Radio 2 playlist and into middle England’s heart, from Florence to Adele via Duffy. But it was last year’s success story Ellie Goulding who revised the crossover template. At times reclaiming girl-pop for pop girls, with the elctro-fizz of Starry Eyed, and at other times making mum-friendly tracks, like her cover of Elton John‘s Your Song, there’s an Ellie for everyone. So it’s no surprise that the her brand of radio-friendly electro is the one the industry is looking to.
Clare Maguire’s gone one step better than most and enlisted Fraser T Smith, who worked on Goulding’s album, for her long-awaited debut. Shortlisted for the BBC’s Sound Of 2011 and signed to Polydor since 2008, she’s been an insider secret for some time. But her first record is something of a disappointment.
It starts off with an intriguingly promising one minute speaker-shaking, Annie Lennox-ish warble over an eerie, atmospheric backing. Before you have time to blink, the theme’s continued with the vampy, Patrick Wolfesque The Shield And The Sword. Against a clattering of soaring strings, Maguire’s voice is pure ’80s disco-drenched power ballad, with the guts of Florence Welch and the attitude of Bonnie Tyler. It’s a slap of bolshy, air punching freshness with the glittery, feel-goodness of Goulding. And it’s as good as Light After Dark gets.
The next track, The Last Dance, offers a few glimpses of her bold, retro approach, with wonderful thundering drums al la Hounds Of Love, and there are sneak-peaks of similar quirks throughout the record. The problem is that as soon as they appear they vanish, leaving a collection of frustratingly bland songs that are polished to within an inch of their lives. It’s almost worse than her being a female James Blunt; the potential is dangled before your ears before being snatched away.
The 23-year-old Brummie’s unlikely voice can’t fail to impress though, and Happiest Pretender offers moments of luscious, Kate Bush-esque breathy vocals, and single Ain’t Nobody, a rush of haunting powerballadery with a Celtic edge, really showcases what she can do.
The rest of the 13 track album sounds like a mix of Latvian Eurovision Song Contest entries and The X-Factor winners’ songs; an unmistakable, cringey ‘life affirming’ theme runs throughout, with the obligatory twinkling electro loops. It’s an unexpected debut that proves there is such a thing as too well produced; we await the album’s tour, when Maguire may finally be able to put her own stamp on things.