If you live in the UK then you probably already have an opinion about Clare Maguire. He debut album, Light After Dark, received very mixed reviews when it came out in 2011. Critics seemed to love it or hate it. And, of course, there were some who were wishy washy, publishing reviews that felt as uninspired as they accused her album of being. But the people didn’t care about the bad reviews and she’s gained a loyal fanbase. And she’s continued to release new music ever since, just doing her thing, throwing caution to the wind. So far there hasn’t been a second album, sadly, but her EPs are always fantastic and that’s the case with her latest, Don’t Mess Me Around.
If you live in the States, or elsewhere, and haven’t heard Clare Maguire I would describe her voice as being similar to Adele’s with its rich texture, soulfulness and power. If someone played you a song from Don’t Mess Me Around and told you it was Adele you’d probably believe them. But she isn’t an Adele clone. While Adele does soulful pop songs, many of Clare’s songs are often purely soul. And I suppose you could consider some of them R&B. Me, I generally don’t pay any attention to what they are. I’m only doing so now because I’m writing a review. But when I hear her songs I don’t usually try to determine what genre they are. When I hear them I just think they’re brilliant songs and that she’s a remarkable singer/songwriter. But I do admire her for doing songs that aren’t very pop-minded. She could easily write some songs with Paul Epworth and come up with her own version of “Rolling in the Deep” or “Set Fire to The Rain,” but she doesn’t. She does her thing and doesn’t really give a fuck about having big radio hits. In fact, the songs on Don’t Mess Me Around aren’t songs I’d expect to hear on the radio. They’re plenty catchy, but they’re lacking the plastic sort of vibe you get from most of today’s pop music. Examples of artists whom I’d say have that vibe are Katy Perry and Maroon 5. I happen to like both of those artists, but I would have to say I prefer Clare Maguire. Another artist you could compare Clare to is Amy Winehouse. Her songs tend to have Amy’s edge and her voice does at least vaguely resemble Amy’s.
Don’t Mess Me Around kicks off with the title track. “You have been erased / That’s how easy you were to replace,” Clare sings almost viciously as she tells a former lover to fuck off but in more elegant words. That attitude is what makes the song so addictive, though the soulful groove, sharp melody and excellent production certainly don’t hurt.
“Boomerang” follows and is even more vicious, packing some raw, sonorous percussion. “But he ain’t no man of steel / He ain’t no superman / And he goes round, round round / So I go back like a boomerang.” The lyrics are interesting because she’s clearly dissing this guy, but she keeps going back to him. Why criticize him then? I don’t know. I think she’s implying that she’s just using the guy for sex but that’s just my interpretation.
Track three is a sorrowful acoustic ballad called “Dream Big.” “I tend to live for fear / Let it sink into my skull / Thinking, over thinking / I’ll fall,” she sings. “I’ve lost every bet / Felt the pain in my chest / Getting high to forget tomorrow.” It’s a ballad she’s apparently written for herself, to criticize herself. One thing is for certain: she bares her heart and soul here. “I dream, dream big / It’s the only way to live / Getting high to forget tomorrow,” goes the chorus. I suppose I’d describe it as a ballad about getting high because your life sucks and you can’t properly cope with it. The only criticism I have about this one is that it feels a bit too short, clocking in at 2:42.
Finally, we have “Sherlock.” “I should’ve known that she’d be there on a plate,” she sings about some clown who’s clearly a cheating bastard. Soon after she sings, “I should’ve checked his phone.” The line that repeats here is “I should’ve known” and that’s as close to a chorus as it gets. In a sense, she’s criticizing herself here, too, putting herself down for not having realized the guy was cheating. But, mostly, she’s dissing the damn cheater.
If you like honest music that comes from deep within the heart, exploring its dark side instead of its happy side then look no further. Don’t Mess Me Around is a killer EP with songs that are about as honest as any artist could possibly get. People love Ed Sheeran for being such an open book, his heart on his sleeve, and I should think his fans would love Clare for the same reason. But you’re not going to get a cheesy pop song like “Sing” out of her. She’s clearly not going to compromise. If she won’t take shit from the men in her life she’s certainly not going to bow down to some record executive and do what they want. She’s way too much of an artist for that. And that’s just one of the reasons you should love her. Buy or stream this one and find yourself a new favorite.