Combining the multifaceted talents of Suede’s Richard Oakes and songwriter-producer Sean McGhee, Artmagic is a collaborative mélange of their respective musical strengths. An osmotic alliance fused by the love of melody.
‘Become The One You Love’ is surprising in that it is not the full throttle rock album that might be expected from someone with Oakes’ credentials. And neither is it a chart-orientated pop album that might be expected of McGhee. It’s a work of contemplative maturity brimming with piano-led ballads and introspective narratives, composed together and nurtured over time.
Leading track ‘The Choice’ establishes the album’s core ambiance with a smouldering piano intro – like hazy sunshine burning through an early morning mist. It’s a tranquil, reflective setting allowing McGhee to slowly reveal his expansive vocal range to great effect. A close relative of Suede’s ‘By The Sea’, it could also have tumbled from Neil Finn’s pen. And while opening an album with a ballad is always a brave move, it works here and serves as a statement of intent.
By contrast, ’Down In The River’ bears the hallmarks of classic Oakes; a furious guitar riff stamped across its bow with a potent immediacy. Live4ever’s recent interview revealed that this is slated as the next single and although the aquatic-themed lyrics in this instance are somewhat cliché, they are compensated by the sheer energy and power of the killer lick.
The air of torch balladry returns in ‘Forever In Negative’ – an infectious melody with a Beatles-esque feel and subtle arrangement. And while the same can be said of ‘A Homecoming’, which teases the listener by introducing understated variations of the top line during the chorus, it’s an instinctive, ambitious and beautiful song.
In fact, melody is the key to unlocking this album. McGhee recently stated that his intent for ‘Become The One You Love’ was to make “..something that will be memorable and touching and beautiful” and in this they have succeeded. The sheer strength in melody spills over into so many tracks.
‘You’ has a vocal that bridges the complex harmonic shift that underpins it, disguising a true sophistication. Even the premise of the lyric, simple on the surface, is much broader and considered beneath. In turn this allows Oakes to raid his bag of guitar tricks which adds weight to the production.
While ‘Heaven Is Here’ reveals Artmagic’s ability to produce up-tempo rock, their real strength lies in composing songs such as ‘Half-Life’ (with its “melancholic staircase of chords”) and ‘The Spark’ with its ‘striking’ elegance and perpetual chord changes.
If some criticise ‘Become The One You Love’ for being weighted in favour of down-tempo, or not sounding like a Richard Oakes solo album, then they’ve missed the point. Or perhaps just deliberately ignored the point.
This album is a potent harmonious infusion of two talents, a rich thematic brew of contagious melodies and the start of a new collaborative musical voyage.