Maggie & Martin
45:58 min • Beauty Box Recordings (UK) • May 21, 2012
In a music-world plagued by nostalgia, talent-show fodder and Glee-“inspired” cover versions ad nauseum, it is wonderfully fresh to encounter a unique collaboration such as Maggie & Martin. Born out of a meeting with mutual friend, Clayton Littlewood, starting with songs to complement his play “Dirty White Boy”, this partnership has now spawned an album of songs that both eschew and celebrate the many labours of love.
Maggie K de Monde and Martin Watkins both come from enviable and highly respectable musical pedigrees, hers being the chanteuse with Swan’s Way, Scarlet Fantastic and The Mighty K, his being writing and performing alongside Marc Almond. Hardly surprising then, that they have crafted an album of songs that are deeply passionate, sincere and energetic, managing to be both innovative and to channel the cream of the 80s.
Already attracting attention from BBC Introducing, and revered by music critic Simon Price, the soulful, yearning and melancholy of Maggie K De Monde’s flawlessly commanded vocal is a formidable match for the writing and production talents of Watkins, with adroit assistance from Leif Kahal on guitars and harmonica.
The album’s opener, ‘Night of a Thousand Stars’ kicks off proceedings with haunting guitars and vocal harmonies, then bursts into a sensual and soulful torch-song, weaving into a true chanson, where the lyrics juxtapose with French, allowing us to storyboard the majestic Maggie wandering seductively through the streets of Paris at night, the words “C’est tout la folie!” ringing through her head.
The tone changes swiftly on the beautiful ballad ‘Time For Love’ where Maggie showcases the higher range of her heartbreaking vocal, building into a bittersweet bridge with superb subtle use of a harmonica at the opening and end of the song, as if to punctuate the end of a love and then the herald of a new beginning. The sentiment is echoed on the haunting acoustic gem ‘Wounds of Love’ with the lamentable, yet seductive vocal rendering the hurt immediately palpable; the spoken healing bridge underpinned by Leif Kahal’s lingering harmonica is stunning.
And this melancholy, I will feel today will just slip away in the shadows sometime, and a new feeling will emerge with purity and promise, a promise of Eden, cleansed.
The mood remains sombre on ‘So Many Goodbyes’, a gorgeous ode to relinquishing lost love and a live rendition of ‘Meant To Be’ channels the aching tenderness of Chrissie Hynde, hopelessly praying that an unrequited love will come to their senses.
Your absence really burns a hole, an emptiness deep in my soul.
The album’s title track opens with a striking piano solo promising a solemn cabaret number being played out in a smoky jazz club, and then breaks off into a stunning mid-tempo ballad, with a synth pop-riff reminiscent of the Pet Shop Boys/Dusty Springfield track ‘Nothing Has Been Proved’ and a sensual and longing vocal from Maggie.
‘Destiny Calling’ is, in sharp contrast, a synthesised 80s stomper of a pop song with immediate appeal and is catapulted into the now with a shrewd vocal effects section that could well have been hackneyed in less talented hands. Conversely, ‘Wu at Heart’ is a soul swinger of a track that Burt Bacharach would have been proud of; the delightful bridge section incorporates a heavenly vocal harmony and chants of “Wa Wa Wu”.
The album’s denouement ‘Mon Amour’ is a relentless, delicious orchestral-pop melodrama with superlative harmonies and with the gives us more than a taste of what Heaven 17 would sound like with Siobhan Fahey providing vocals.
Union is a rather cathartic affair. In fact, my sole disparagement of this outstanding and distinctive collection is the succinct 45-minute running time. To some it may appear dark and sombre, but an auspicious, healing and knowing optimism is present in many of the tracks. The album’s theme may predominantly remain the same throughout, but the variety of musical and lyrical stylings, spanning torch-song balladry, melodramatic pop-stompers and soul-swinging, keeps the listener more than intrigued. Superlative.