CLARE MAGUIRE – Stranger Things Have Happened (Virgin): You can almost hear Clare Maguire’s hunt for a hit single in “Elizabeth Taylor,” a slow-burning piano ballad Adele could’ve turned into a knockout just by sneezing on it. And really, Maguire does herself no favors by imitating Adele in the most superficial ways: brooding black-and-white cover, complete lack of humor, and a seriousness even Lana Del Rey might find off-putting. Fortunately, though the largely piano-and-strings assortment can be monotonous, Maguire isn’t without the skill for concocting hooks and choruses, so it’s easy enough to let her rhythmic “uh-liz-uh-bith tay-luh” get stuck in your head.
Unfortunately, Maguire can’t quite decide whom she wants to imitate most on her path to developing her own voice, and so she dwells on that unfortunate border between so many styles—not soulful enough to belt her way to the bigtime, not quirky enough to retreat to Regina Spektor-occupied indie circles, not sexy enough to pull off her imitation of Nico’s “Chelsea Girls” on “Hanging in the Stars.” Her voice is generically pretty enough but doesn’t have the confidence or strength to propel the songs beyond their modest piano base. Even in better moments such as the coulda-beena-Elton John-song “Spaceman,” her apex in the chorus lacks the emotional punch the contemporaries she’s modeled after have.
Does she want to be a mysterious poptress (“Stranger Things Have Happened,” with its sparse but great use of a harp), or does she want to occupy the same space as disposable singer-songwriters like Sara Bareilles or Yael Naim? Does she want to go the smoky blues route of “Faded” (which sounds like a bit of a ripoff of Feist’s “A Commotion”)or tame adult pop lane of “Here I Am”? Will we have to wait another five years to find out if she still just wants to sound like a lesser Adele? B PLUS (*)