Ever since Maverick Sabre appeared on Professor Green‘s Jungle – a snarling dystopian view of modern urban landscapes – there was a sense that this was an artist that would not only go places, but stand out from the rest of the pack. For 21-year-old Michael Stafford, born in Hackney but raised in Ireland, there’s a richness and collective wisdom to the creation ‘Maverick Sabre’ – like all great musical personas, Sabre speaks as the voice of the people, a mouth-piece for the many.
Album opener I Need is an obvious standout; a slow, prowling sweep of synthetic strings and vinyl hiss that conjures up visions of grey skies pierced by crumbling tower blocks and deprived city streets crying for a new salvation. Lonely Are The Brave feels like a political album without ever being overtly political – it paints a picture of contemporary Britain, but leaves the listener to ascertain on their own what morals may be gleaned from it. “I need sunshine, I need angels…” sings Stafford, his distinctive tones taking on an almost prayer-like quality – there’s an air of barely-maintained hope in the face of adversity, a last-gasp calling for times to change.
And it is in the horn-riffing marching rhythms of triumphant Let Me Go that change comes – for every bit that I Need feels melancholy and reflective, Let Me Go is bursting with the urge for action, for progress. As far as openings go, Lonely Are The Brave’s two-track combo realises a tantalisingly truthful portrait of life and its infinite complexities, hardships and ambitions. Meanwhile, the retro-funk of Memories and gospel-tinged These Days drift on blissful hazy ambience – don’t be surprised if they end up on one of those ubiquitous Ministry Of Sound ‘Chilled’ compilations sometime in the near future.
Piano-driven Open Your Eyes is brilliant, playing like something off an Ian Brown album– and along with the summery refrains of Sometimes, often hits the borderline between singing and rap. It’s not just a statement of Stafford’s versatile talent, but brings a genuine thrill in the sheer eclectic diversity on offer. Whether at his most experimental or on more traditional singer-songwriter numbers like the Daniel Merriweather-styled I Used To Have It All, Stafford proves his skill as a tunesmith. He even turns out proper radio-smash pop moments like Running Away where everything just seems to slide together with the most perfect of ease.
So much of Lonely Are The Brave plays like a collage scrap-book of places and sounds, a photo album of a ’90s upbringing that will strike a chord with any of a similar age. It’s the album that blurs the boundaries between mixtape and biography, commercial LP and concept work.
There’s a brutal bluntness to lines like “money is the motivation” on gorgeous stretched-out ballad Cold Game. In a grim capitalist world, hard cash is the ultimate goal, the thing that all life strives towards. It’s a bleak portrait, but one that cuts right to the heart. And for any up and coming singer-songwriter, songs that actually hit those core emotions are surely the order of the day. Maverick Sabre more than succeeds on that count; forget the likes of Ed Sheeran, Stafford’s beautifully real depictions of life take the trophy for sheer heartfelt lyricism.
Again and again, the ambition of Stafford’s debut comes across – it’s a heady melting pot of influences and inflections as broad as London itself. And taking the capital as this album’s stage and setting (though truthfully, any large city would suffice), Maverick Sabre crafts a truly exquisite performance.