British singer-songwriter Clare Maguire first appeared on the scene in 2011, where she was instantly compared to Florence Welsh, due to her powerful vocal abilities. That same year she came fifth in the BBC Sound of 2011 music poll and released her debut album Light After The Dark which reached number 7 in the UK album charts.
After disappoint sales, a dispute with her record label due to the promotion, a break in rehab for alcoholism, and a few EPs, she is finally back with her second album Stranger Things Have Happened. Her sound and style has gone for a complete rebrand and if you listened to both albums side by side, you would consider them to be two completely different artists, which may attract new fans but may take a while for dedicated fans to settle in.
That is not to say Stranger Things Have Happened isn’t a good album, in fact it is a well-crafted LP with a lot of substance lyrically and instrumentally. The 12 track album is not heavily over produced like her first, nor are there bold vocal riffs featuring throughout (with the slight exception of the first single “Elizabeth Taylor”). The production is a lot more rustic with less big beats and more traditional piano harmonies and string sonorities.
The album’s overall tone is a more sophisticated, deep and mature pop album, with elements of retro and even country tones play throughout. The first single “Elizabeth Taylor” is one of the catchiest songs on the album. Channelling her inner Adele, she shows she still has the lungs that made her compared to belters like Florence, and is the only song that sounds anything remotely like the woman prior to this album. Maguire has a talent for telling a story in her lyrics and the single takes us through a cinematic journey about loving and losing a person.
This time around, Maguire isn’t using her vocal abilities to impress everyone, instead resting on her song writing and artistry. Opening song “Faded” is incredibly raw with her soft breezy vocals carrying over a basic piano beat, makes you feel like you have gotten lost and walked back in time into a speakeasy in a black and white film.
The album is very atmospheric with plenty of moody tracks that will make Lana Del Rey proud. Tracks “Swimming” and the album title track “Stranger Things Have Happened” are very brooding and instrumental heavy, with Maguire’s ghostly vocals layered over, creating a sound that could easily feature on soundtracks of many films.
Maguire tries a country and folk sound with “Here I Am” and “The Valley”, which sound a bit misplaced in the depth of the album, but are the more happier upbeat songs, along with the most pop sounding track “Spaceman”. The more beautiful and well composed tracks are the ones where Maguire lets the music build up without any of her vocals appearing at the start. “Hanging In The Stars” is simply a masterpiece, in that Maguire is so confident in her work and creativity, she does not start singing till over a minute into the song.
She shows again that she requires no strong vocals, but more sustainable lyrics with a piano and a guitar to create a beautiful record. The song songs like a modern lullaby and creates such a beautiful ambient, it is easily one of the best songs on the album. “Falling Leaves” follows after and is properly the most experimental song on the album as she creates haunting vocals that could echo and captivate a whole room.
Songs “Whenever You Want It”, “Changing Faces” and the album’s closing track “Leave You In Yesterday” are some of her most personal songs. Lyrically very deep and relatable, she makes it obvious she is singing from personal experience and again shows her incredible skills as a song writer by the story she creates behind each word spoken.
Stranger Things Have Happened is overall is a very classy and haunting album which everyone should listen to when they are in a down beat mellow mood. Fans of Light After Dark should be weary as it will feel like they have discovered a new artist, but a very talented and underrated one at that. Clare Maguire’s Stranger Things Have Happened is out now via Virgin EMI, purchase it on iTunes here.
Words by Wai-Kin Cheng