2011 was supposed to be a breakout year for Clare Maguire. First making herself known on MySpace several years prior, she was cajoled by several record labels before signing with Polydor and had been tapped by the BBC as one of the year's most promising new artists. A supporting role on a Hurts tour led to her first single "Ain't Nobody" receiving a fair amount of airplay on British charts and widespread comparisons to both Kate Bush and Annie Lennox. Her second single "The Last Dance" was reportedly written in response to Michael Jackson's death and released simultaneously with her debut album, and if hype were reality Maguire would have received the same level of success as Adele on both sides of the pond.
But with the attention came an immense amount of meddling from her label. The blues/soul songs she for which she first grabbed attention somehow morphed into an album full of torch chamberpop: most certainly a way of showcasing her voice but lacking variety and overwrought in both production and performance. Jejune lyrics and generic mid-tempo string music sealed the album firmly in the "adult contemporary" genre, evidenced by the string of promotional performances booked on morning talkshows. But "The Last Dance" failed to gain traction among housewives everywhere and was a fairly massive flop in the U.K., unfortunately leaving Maguire best known as a cautionary tale about overhyping an artist who didn't deliver.
Her third (and final) single "The Shield and the Sword" was the floppiest of them all, barely squeaking into the top 100 charts the week it was released. The most power ballad-y song in an album full of power ballads felt stale upon arrival; but although the album should be viewed as a anodyne pastiche best forgotten, "The Shield and the Sword" shows the greatest promise for what Clare Maguire could have been. It's a bold, aggressive declaration of a relationship's end, with Maguire singing her heart out against a backdrop of swooning orchestras and staccato piano stabs. Glossy? Absolutely. But it's the kind of ballad we don't see much of anymore, and even more rarely by someone with her vocal talent.
Also check out: To be honest there isn't much else in Maguire's older back catalog I'd recommend. But a mere two weeks ago she released a new single "All or Nothing Love" that's strongly reminiscent of 2006-era Snow Patrol. I'm a fan, but your mileage may vary.
Next up: An Australian electropop duo whose second album was very much My Jam during my senior finals week at university.