Since rearing his head to measured critical approval via his self-titled 2008 debut album, Eugene McGuinness has slowly become a slick-haired poster boy for dapper, vaguely impudent London youth. Perhaps more recognised for his work in Miles Kane’s backing band, although increasingly extolled for his knack for melody and lyrically street-savvy ways, his third album, The Invitation to the Voyage, is almost guaranteed to finally elevate him from beyond the former.
Considering its title is derived from Baudelaire’s ode-to-fully-living, L’Invitation Au Voyage, it’s unsurprising that McGuinness’ first fully-fledged solo foray adheres throughout to a creed of restlessness and social lust. Yet far from instilling Dean Moriarty’s love of those who “burn like fabulous yellow Roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars” for the Instragram generation, its opening tracks, ‘Harlequinade’ and ‘Sugarplum’, are two starry-eyed songs unfortunately marred by lines like “We could be painting this town red instead of dwelling in these dungeons of doubt”. With an equally clumsy string section on the latter granting the whole an unflattering veneer, McGuinness’ modus operandi feels instantly exhausted.
Thankfully, though, what directly follows is not without its innate intelligence and charm. Take, for example, the polyrhythmic bob and sharp chords of ‘Lion’, the melancholic wanderlust of ‘Videogame’ and McGuinness’ Moz-esque zeal on ‘Concrete Moon’ – three outright highlights utterly at odds with the forgettable surf noir of ‘Joshua’ and the insipid ‘Shotgun’ with its awkward sample of Duane Eddy’s ‘Peter Gunn’ theme. It’s this dichotomy between McGuinness’ uncanny knack for burrowing melodies and his foolhardy mish-mash of surf guitar and synth-led vocal boasting that makes The Invitation to the Voyage such a conflicted trip.
That said, whilst all too often fluctuating between drawn-out passages of purposeless revivalism and McGuinness’ undeniable knack for subtly crushing chord changes and socially-attuned turns of phrase, this is an archetypal “repeated listen” album. What may initially appear to be vacuous pastiche with the odd flash of brilliance gradually becomes a hugely impressive release strung together with deceptively complex, unmistakably modern musings. While its youthful call to burst out into the night with unplanned abandon retains its initial sense of crass myopia – slightly marring the promise therein – this voyage is ultimately far from a trial and this particular invitee gracefully accepts in the hope the best is yet to come.
Listen to The Invitation to the Voyage