Eugene McGuinness - The Invitation To The Voyage
The Peter Gunn sample heard on the brilliant 'Shotgun', one of the highlights on The Invitation To The Voyage, was also one of the key pieces of music used in the opening episode of the third season of The Sopranos. In it, the Gunn theme – which also segued effortlessly into 'Every Breath You Take' – was played during scenes in which the FBI stalked and spied on the Soprano family, who were just getting on with the humdrum of daily life. It's a wonderful piece of television, confident enough to just let the characters chew the fat and get on with whatever they do each day, without any real attempt to inject the scenes with any dramatic imperative. But of course, subtext is everything. Even though from the outside looking in it seemed as though there wasn't a whole lot going on, each moment, every interaction, provided a slight yet important progression to the narrative. The key theme of Eugene McGuinness' second album is strikingly similar; subject matters that are familiar, downright boring at times, all brought to life with great humour and storytelling skill. The Invitation To The Voyage is a celebration of living in the 21st century, and all the frustration, restlessness and isolation that goes with it.
My worry for Eugene McGuinness, prior to this album, was the danger of him being lumped in with the UK male singer-songwriter crowd. That is what he is, I guess, but such a label really only scratches the surface. More daring and inventive than someone like Ed Sheeran, and leaps and bounds ahead of the 1960's aping types such as Miles Kane, McGuinness always seemed to be set for bigger and better things. His 2007 debut EP, The Early Learnings Of Eugene McGuinness, was an incredibly strong, fully-realised piece of work for someone so young and new to the scene. The self-titled follow-up LP built on this and then some; the wit and song craft on display on both of those records should have marked him as a force in British music. For whatever reason – I suppose there's no accounting for taste - it didn't. The wide-reaching, lush sounding and genuinely brilliant pop moments on The Invitation To The Voyage could well change that.
McGuinness sings of "going for the jugular" on the opening 'Harlequinade' and that's exactly what he does. Springing from the traps with a soulful, playful swagger, it's a perfect welcome to the album and sets the tone for things to come: big hooks, and elements of disco, post-punk and R&B, all tied together with a modern twist. Those frustrations with modernity and the status-update generation all come boiling over in the frantic 'Lion'. A ridiculously catchy song, 'Lion' is 3 minutes of yelps and ticks, McGuinness spouting anything that comes to mind as though he is about to explode, over a mean surf-guitar line; while the sweet, throbbing 'Sugarplum', sees him lamenting a missed opportunity with a potential love interest due to a lack of phone credit. Of course, there has to be some moments of redemption to make all the other rubbish worthwhile, and 'Shotgun' provides just that. It's a massive song, that in another dimension has already sent McGuinness to the top of the charts, and perfectly describes the thrill of going out to a club, meeting and dancing with a girl and just revelling in that moment, not worrying about the fallout after. The album as a whole brilliantly captures those moments of everyday occurrence, and the tension and tedium they negate.
'Video Game' aside, which weirdly enough sounds like him channelling My Morning Jacket, the rest of the material here owes a great debt to the likes of Bowie and Costello. The beautiful title track and the stately 'Concrete Moon', in particular, both share a timeless quality. Whilst he may not be in the same league as those artists yet, you get the sense that McGuinness has enough talent and ambition to forge a path in a similar direction. With The Invitation To The Voyage he clearly has the classics in mind, but the material is in no way nostalgic or retro. He has said himself of the album, "the songs should mean something to people that are young and experiencing those kind of feelings and situations right now." One can only hope McGuinness will find the audience he is looking for - and we could finally have a star on our hands.