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He’s prowled the underground, surreptitiously looking over couples’ shoulders and tapping out iPhone notes on contemporary romance and city kid malaise. These topics he subsequently brings to life in his new incarnation as patchwork pop storyteller.
And certainly McGuinness pulls it off for about half of The Invitation to the Voyage. He majestically straddles off-kilter arrangements and sing-able choruses on Lion, reeling off brilliantly deranged lines about “stitching up freaks in my secret laboratory” and “skeletons dancing up on xylophones” at a helter-skelter pace over handclaps, woozy rockabilly riffs and attacking basslines.
Shotgun, too, is a winningly dark and infectious ode to a relationship that leaves him “black and blue, battered and bruised”. “But I care not,” he ventures, with a glint in his eye. Concrete Moon shows the songwriter at his peak lyrically, with its couplets about “lotharios and clowns” and “passageways of electric arcades”, which all build to a thrillingly cacophonous operatic finale.
Thunderbolt and Japanese Cars show this record’s breadth stylistically, featuring pizzicato violins, flurries of horns, growling guitars, 80s art-pop leanings and sparkling electronics. Occasionally, however, McGuinness’ new bombastic approach to music-making teeters into bland and forgettable territories, making the better moments of this set sound positively out-there in comparison.
“We will rush and crush on the underground,” he rhymes lazily over the swaggering beat of Sugarplum (eww) with its (unintentional?) Sugababes skit: “round round, baby, round round”. Videogame is (again, probably unintentionally) reminiscent of Robbie Williams; and the bromantic lyrics of Joshua are just painful.
With a concept as potent and full of potential as McGuinness’ attempt to provide a fantastical take on the “frustration, restlessness and isolation that 21st century urban living can often bring,” more bite and imagination was expected here. There are flashes of it for sure, but not quite enough.
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