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Artist: Eugene McGuinness

Album: Eugene McGuinness

Label: Domino

Review date: May. 15, 2009


Eugene McGuinness - "Knock Down Ginger" (Eugene McGuinness)


Eugene McGuiness covers a lot of ground on his first full-length, even if his 12 tracks of tightly arranged indie rock isn’t exactly diverse. He puts together a good melody for each of these songs, as effortlessly as Ray Davies and in as nasally a voice. The songs don’t just find their roots in peak-era Kinks, they look back to the dreamy music hall that Davies himself looked back upon. You could almost call McGuiness’ songs nostalgic if he weren’t so divorced from the contexts where these styles were created.

"Fonz" has the metronome strum of the early 1980s (or wait, is it the early aughts?). And there’s a streak of heterosexual camp like Belle and Sebastian (or maybe the Wedding Present?). Songs split evenly between piano and guitar, between natural and electric sounds. That’s OK. Most indie auteurs are going to dabble like this sooner or later. McGuiness crams it all into his portfolio. The fact that he’s emerged on his own, rather than in a four-piece, suggests he’s pretty sure of himself. The work is engaging enough that he wears his confidence well.

A gal named Wendy, surely a heartbreaker, appears twice. Eugene doesn’t harbor hangups, though. Her title song, "Wendy Wonders," places her on a pedestal, then lets her float away in a cloud of orchestral strings. Ginger … she seems more confusing. He wistfully reports “I put my finger in the dam / and my heart in to her hands / she rang my doorbell twice and then she split”, then breaks the placid mood with a snide "yeah yeah yeah".

When he moves away from affairs of the crotch, his skills fade a bit. Building a hook around the line "Mother, I’m not so academic" pushes a song into indie caricature, given that the genre (and McGuiness) ooze with fiction workshop detail. Likewise, using "Disneyfied" as a metaphor for all those phonies picks on too obvious a target.

He doesn’t strive to rock out, but there enough acrid jolts to scuff things up. A player-piano pastiche is followed up with a ho-down beat and word-collage kissoff. Well-honed couplets are interrupted by enough cussing to show honest exasperation, and topped with specifics about bus passes and undelivered text messages. Following the advice from his first-year composition class, he writes what he knows.

By Ben Donnelly

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