Liner Notes: Clare Maguire's 'Strange' & Stirring Journey To Salvation

Hype can be a killer --- and in Clare Maguire's case --- it also became her savior.

Back in 2009, Maguire was put through hype's machinery, churning out a debut album, Light After Dark, and gaining cool co-signs from hip-hop heavies Jay Z and Rick Rubin. While Light After Dark boasted heavy-duty power ballads, and Maguire had the theatrical earthiness of Florence Welch and Annie Lennox via voice, the album itself was too bombast for its own good, and soon interest towards the 'next big voice of Britain' fizzled out.

For Maguire, the fickleness of fame and the failing of great expectations sent her into a sinister spiral of substance abuse, it all leading towards a frightening death prediction and into a moment of clarity for the Birmingham-bred singer. When Maguire entered into rehab she was confronted by a nurse who had taken care of Amy Winehouse during her relapse and learned some unsettling truths."When I was an addict, I didn’t realize Amy was in trouble," Maguire said in a Birmingham Mail interview. "Her death made me think 'This is reality… people can die from this'."

The pop narrative has always thrived on such downward spirals and revitalized comebacks, and Stranger Things Have Happened does have similar diction, but Maguire's resurgence is not so much her confronting personal demons and releasing a humanizing masterwork, more so she's pressing the reset button to her identity as a singer. It's been some time since I've listened to Light After Dark, but I remember hearing her proper introduction, "Ain't Nobody", remember hearing Maguire's searing contralto slither and slink across a bed of strings, and remember being a little puzzled that for the remainder of the album she was being confined into a one-note songstress act --- an act that truth be told Adele has recently sheared and pruned into worldwide success with 25.

Stranger Things Have Happened is the album Maguire should have made when the hype was up and she had some room to stretch her legs in the median of Winehouse's rising popularity and Adele's first take. Still Maguire's white girl blues ain't like Adele, nor does it match with the heavily intoxicated world-weariness of the late Miss Winehouse. Maguire has a crystal clear classic tone that is more of a "Holly Golightly in flux" vibe than a back-breaking bluewoman. "Faded" opens the album with this kind of flair. It has parallels to Feist in its lounge act, but also beguiles with 'smoking room only' jazz quality. When the strings needle in, the song is clinking champagne glasses filled with muddied, salted tears. It's stylish, but still so raw.

Tinges of '60s era soul and psychedelia crop up amid the album's stripped back sound, more specifically on the elegiac and epic title track, even a stabs at gospel are compiled (the tambourine testify "Here I Am"), but Maguire is in her element more so when she's torching it up, forgoing the theatrics to be as nuanced and subtle as she allows herself taking us through a journey of love and the wicked turning of tables.

Lead-off single, the elegantly fragile "Elizabeth Taylor" is a perfect example of this as she storytells the turbulent love life of the legendary actress, but in some ways its also Maguire's tale to weave and be woebegone. In a recent (and pretty riveting) interview with Noisey, Maguire divulges not only her struggle with substance abuse, but confesses that in the weeks after becoming clean she found herself shackled to a toxic romance that left her reeling in depression. For a time Maguire couldn't even get out of bed, her pain was just too raw, and she too vulnerable to move a muscle. In fact, "Swimming" was recorded right from her bed, this after a musician's friend's insistence, and in its latticed guitar work, you can sense Maguire coming undone.

Stranger Things Have Happened retains this inky veil of intimacy over it, where every song feels like Maguire is communicating right there live from her bedsheets. Tracks like "Whatever You Want It" and "Hanging In The Stars" play like exorcisms for her fractured heart, and unlike her debut, Maguire is unafraid to confess every secret and fuck-up. Even when she says it in so few words, Maguire exposes all, as the Nina Simone-esque "Falling Leaves" may be minimal in its piano backdrop, but lines like "What has that man gone and done underneath/He left me in the falling leaves" carry so much weight.

Though tender and sore from the crawl, Maguire is still seeing that pinprick of tunnel light, as she heals and replenishes herself in places, most specifically on "Changing Faces" which is Maguire's thank-you note to her family and friends, who saw her change, stumble and rise up, and still never "put her down". For "Spaceman" she soars into an atmosphere of inspiration and indulgence, her voice freewheeling and luminous as she re-counts her trials and her survival, almost laughing in relief, finally awoken from her self-infliction as if it were all a crazy dream.

There's hope for Maguire with Stranger Things Have Happened. Inklings of her coming back to life were found in her steady stream of EPs and singles (all chronicled on her SoundCloud), but Stranger Things Have Happened is the breakthrough, her finally finding purpose in her voice as it reinvents and recharges her anew. As dark as the album tends to wallow, Maguire is the wiser to know that sometimes you have to get knocked down by the hot stage lights of fame to find yourself in the briskness of reality and redemption.

+ Stranger Things Have Happened is available to purchase via iTunes and stream via Spotify
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