Blimey. When you’re releasing your debut (mini-) album on a subsidiary of Domino Records you know that not only have you arrived, but that you’ve arrived with your indie credentials polished to the hilt. Especially when the title of your last track is clearly asking Arctic Monkeys outside to settle once and for all who can waste the most printers’ ink while simultaneously mangling decent grammar.
So the music had better live up to the expectation, then, hadn’t it, young Eugene McGuinness, and not just be the work of another kooky singer-songwriter dipping his toes in an already saturated market.
Unfortunately, while The Early Learnings Of… is varied enough to swerve from the Irish folk of opener High Score to the Beck-recalling psychedelics of A Child Lost In Tesco and the haunting piano swirls of Madeleine, there isn’t really enough here to raise him high enough above the existing crowd.
Similarities can be drawn with perhaps too many a gentle pop troubadour, from the much missed Ella Guru to modern pretenders to the throne such as Fionn Regan and Kid Harpoon. It’s music that belongs in a small, intimate basement bar, furnished with Boho chic and the sweet smell of first dates. Rock’n’roll it ain’t.
McGuinness’s voice is distinctive, his delivery sometimes (though not always) spiked with a staccato punchiness worthy of Kaiser Chiefs or Maxïmo Park over melodies poached from the folky dokey stage of a tiny festival lost in an enchanted forest, but it lacks real punch.
He needs something to bring it, if even for one track, momentarily above the water level of background music – one riff, melody, chorus or hook that would make you hum a song long after it’s finished. Even by the third listen, evidence of these is still missing, and there’s a inevitable resignation that it will be by the fourth and fifth as well.
There are worst crimes in the universe and McGuinness at least has the decency not to be derivative and samey, but against Get Cape. Wear Cape. Fly!, the aforementioned Fionn Regan or any of the other competition, he’s in danger of being the first to be thrown out of the balloon.
It’s certainly listenable. It would certainly be pleasant should he come on while you’re picking at olives and whiling away a few hours in a bar-cum-music venue. But at the end of the day, don’t we need something a bit more than that?