If his introductory mini-album, The Early Learnings Of Eugene McGuinness managed to slip unnoticed through your net upon its release last year, you missed out one of 2007’s most delightful sonic treats. However, you can rectify the situation or simply make your long-overdue reintroduction with the genre-hopping 22 year old's self-titled album.
A sprawling, schizophrenic sophomore effort that skips between boundaries with gleeful abandon and an acidic sense of humour, it’s an improvement on its predecessor in every way, something Eugene himself attributes to the recording process this time around.
“‘Early Learnings of...’ was good, and it was fun for me being in the studio for the first time and getting to play with all these toys and flashing lights, but on this record, I’ve been working with other musicians and it’s come out with that band element that I wanted. Quite a lot of the album was done live and I wanted to project that natural feel. I didn’t get a load of session musicians together in a big studio; I just got a couple of friends in and we worked to generate something that had a little bit more character.”
That character itself is a little more difficult to pin down; over the course of the album’s 35-or-so minutes, Eugene touches on everything from the post-punk sturm und drang of "Fonz" to the skiffle-beat pop confections of "Rings Around Rosa" to the disarmingly beautiful 30’s-style balladeering of "Those Old Black And White Movies." It’s nothing if not eclectic.
“There are songs on the album that just come out quite melancholy like "Black And White Movies," "Knock Down Ginger" and "God In Space," but other times it’ll be The Pogues, or The Kinks. I’d rather be known for being inconsistent and a bit scatty than for pulling the same tricks all the time, so I’ve tried to do a few different things on the album.”
“I was born in London, and grew up in Essex but I went to university in Liverpool. I’m a bit of a three-headed monster; Liverpool, London, Ireland, all of them have influenced me in some way. I find it quite a weird thing to talk about, where someone comes from. It always seems to end up defining a person, and people would instantly associate you with a particular sound or with a particular group of people. I want to try to avoid that.”
The album avoids it with aplomb. As scatty as its author always intended it to be, it veers from unabashed, starry-eyed romance to pre-coital forked-tongue come-ons via a sound that’s simultaneously cinematic and yet endearingly ramshackle. It’s an album of square pegs and round holes that somehow coalesce perfectly; you can’t quite get a handle on where it’s going next, but guessing is half the fun.
“On the one hand,” says Eugene, “A lot of the songs on the record are unapologetically romantic, like "Black and White Movies," but then on the other hand it’s quite a filthy record,” which is where "Fonz" and that line, “We said farewell and we synchronized our watches / Arranged for the meeting of our crotches,” fits in."
It’s that split personality that gives the album it’s joyous verve and unpredictability.
From the raucous skiffle-y shuffle of opener "Rings Around Rosa," an imagined scene of schoolyard one-gunmanship to "Nightshift"’s freakbeat psych-out detailing the fizzling out of a relationship via the woozy, homespun near-sweetness of "Wendy Wonders" (look out for the “Fucked-up bastard, sub-zero psycho” sting in the tail) and dainty flights of croonerish fancy like "Knock Down Ginger" and the startling "Those Old Black And White Movies," it’s a beguiling musical scrapbook that defies easy classification as anything other than brilliant. It attains a refreshing level of musical freedom that may have its roots in Eugene’s decision to largely eschew personal frames of reference when it came to songwriting.
“With this album,” says Eugene, “A lot of the stories behind the songs are completely fabricated, which wasn’t the case with the last one. There are only a few drawn from personal experience, because I found I had more fun making things up. There are bits, little knowing winks and phrases that are drawn from real life, but mostly it’s just little made-up scenarios.”
If there’s a song that best sums up the album’s duality, however, it may just be the idiosyncratic chamber-pop of "Disneyfied." “It’s a phrase I’ve always used, but I’m not sure if it’s something that I made up or not. I take it to mean a state of mind where someone is totally, unrealistically optimistic about how things are going to turn out, where your body is in the real world, but your mind is in la-la land, if you like.”
That’s Eugene McGuinness to a tee; a record that’s gloriously out of time and yet at the same time thoroughly modern, with one foot in reality and the other somewhere else entirely, where every silver lining has a cloud and one unexpected turn of phrase can lead you down a new musical rabbit hole.