Equally primal and playful, swaggering yet soulful, anthemic but sonically experimental, The Invitation To The Voyage is the second full-length album from Eugene McGuinness and his most powerfully conceived and fully realised artistic statement to date. Recorded with the dual assistance of producers Clive Langer (Elvis Costello, Morrissey, Madness) and Dan Carey (MIA, Hot Chip, Santigold) The Invitation is an unabashedly bombastic, brave and above all, thoroughly contemporary update on a distinctly English strand of lyrical, gently fantastical pop songwriting that locates and celebrates the beautiful and the bizarre in modern life.
More emotionally focused and musically muscular than its predecessors (2007's The Early Learnings of Eugene McGuinness mini-album and the following year's debut eponymous full length), The Invitation retains the wild, almost hallucinatory vision and acid humour of Eugene's first work but boasts a new-found emotional focus and command of universal sentiment. It's a subtle change that marks this record out as a genuinely powerful pop album and confirms Eugene as one of the most stylistically distinctive and uniquely insightful writers of the present day. The Invitation To The Voyage is a record littered with immediately memorable, subtly profound status update observations and charmingly precise details that manage to brilliantly illuminate those most relatable of twenty first century experiences in a manner that feels infinitely familiar on one hand and yet wholly novel on the other. The subject matter itself may be familiar - but in the hands of such a compelling narrator as Eugene – equal parts humorous, surreal, despairing and celebratory – the drama that unfolds in the nightclubs, rush hour scrambles and text message inboxes of his depiction have a certain elegance and poetry that is rare. These are songs that derive their power from having one foot in the art house and another in the public house. "I wanted to write songs that really captured a certain feeling that most people experience all the time but in a different way" explains Eugene. "I wanted to do a record that just reflected positivity, that feeling of coming out of a difficult period and looking forward. The images and ideas are fired out from all directions, it's all a bit uncertain where we're going to end up, but a bit of ruthless optimism is what it's all about. The dull stuff and the humdrum doesn't matter, because it's always in your hands."
This contrast of the frustration, restlessness and isolation that 21st century urban living can often bring about and the great potential for release and escape it can offer at the same time is a recurring theme throughout the album. The machine gun hail-of-consciousness of 'Lion', for instance, sounds like the work of a man about to explode. "That song was basically just meant to be like the biggest fuck off my soul could muster at the time, a primal scream really" explains Eugene. "It was kind of at the point when you're so frustrated you're beyond reason." Similarly, the beery, tender 'Joshua' - "a song about friendship, about how we keep our guards up, it's an attempt to communicate something sweeter than just 'you alright mate?'"- and the swinging, soulful 'Sugar Plum' finds Eugene trying to implore a love interest to seize a fleeting moment of happiness from the mundane ("…for tomorrow we will rush and crush on the underground") but struggling to communicate properly. "I should have said it, when I had credit, I should have just let it all out" as he puts it – a particularly good example of the use of specific cultural reference points to express more general sentiment that form a regular motif throughout the album. It's not all frustration, though, and the Peter Gunn-sampling 'Shotgun', contains the pay-off in the form of good old hedonistic redemption: "every time I dance with you, every time I dance with you", Eugene croons, "I stagger out the night club black and blue, battered and bruised… but I care not." "It's about those moments of transcendence", explains Eugene, "that make all the rest of the rubbish worthwhile somehow", and indeed the album as a whole has an uncanny knack of encapsulating the feeling of those instances and the tension and tedium that they negate, perfectly.
It's a stylistic emphasis that is matched musically. The Invitation is a high-octane joyride of an album that feels destined to actually soundtrack the exact same thrills, spills, heartache and hangovers of the weekend warrior tomorrow that it details today. As the surging chorus of enormous robo-disco stomp 'Harlequinade' that opens proceedings puts it, Eugene is very much "going for the jugular" here; big hooks (and there are plenty) are met head-on with a wonderfully agile vocal, arrangements strut and soar majestically and the always impressively eclectic musicality of Eugene's work (taking in elements of disco, post-punk, R & B, soul, surf and even krautrock) is really allowed to run riot. "When I listen to my first records", says Eugene, "I can definitely still enjoy them and hear a lot of myself in them. It's like sonic DNA – those records sort of represented and reflected the music I grew up listening to, the classic pop music my parents got me into like The Beatles and The Stones etc. and that stays with you forever. In many ways the new record was written with those classic records in mind, but I also wanted to make it as modern sounding as possible – I never wanted it to be retro or nostalgic, the songs should mean something to people that are young and experiencing those kind of feelings and situations right now. I don't think anyone has quite done that properly for a while." 2012