Written in the draws of lockdown, Maverick Sabre tackles relationships and what it take to be a part of a couple on one of the most settled albums of his career, ‘Don’t Forget To Look Up’. Similar to the circumstances surrounding its creation, however, at times it feels like an album failing to break free, falling on old tricks and seeking the safety of familiarity rather than risk trying something new.
It’s been ten years to the week since Hackney-born, Wexford raised Michael Stafford aka Maverick Sabre released his debut album, which felt like a breath of fresh air at a time when contemporary R’n’B/soul in the country, especially somewhere as rural as Wexford, was failing to set the world ablaze. ‘Lonely Are The Brave’, with its Thierry Henry references and glorious choruses, on tracks such as Let Me Go, These Days, and No One, put Sabre on the map in ways few could have ever expected. Acclaimed on both sides of the Irish sea, it set its writer off in the greatest possible way, and Sabre became a prominent name in Ireland’s musical conversation.
In 2015, Sabre followed up his debut with ‘Innerstanding’, an album that while well-intentioned, failed to live up to the hype of its predecessor. Deciding to try his luck as an independent artist, 2019’s ‘When I Wake Up’ was a tour-de-force of power, bravado and showed signs of Sabre returning to his best, and a middle finger to anyone that thought to doubt his musical ability. Despite its success, however, Sabre still had a lot to prove and may feel he still needed to show the world he could maintain his good form.
Unfortunately, ‘Don’t Forget To Look Up’ fails to live up to the task. From the opener Falling, a vulnerable examination of falling down the mental rabbit hole, the album’s opening half feels safe in the dullest of ways. Hazy instrumentation throughout, as well as Sabre’s apathetic vocals fail to provide the momentum needed to generate and maintain attention despite their best efforts. Like This, as well as Not Easy Love, featuring Demae, are early highlights, but too many tracks drift towards the forgettable.
Sabre had a big hand in production throughout the album, and at times it tells. A failure to be inventive or an unwillingness to try anything too complex weighs the album down. Would a more experienced producer have tried something new, or brought a new angle to proceedings?
Midway through the album, Sabre is joined by Sasha Keable, who provides impressive vocals to the chorus of Middle of Eden. The track is something of a turning point, as all of a sudden, the likes of Can’t Be Wrong, Time Away and the evocative Something Special provide Sabre the platform from which to showcase his vocal dexterity and the emotional weight it can carry.
It’s unusual for an album to be divisive within its own sonic ecosystem. There’s half of a great album in there, but it’s unfortunately suffocated by a tranche of unimaginative fillers. It’s worrying to think of how many may have missed out on the gems scattered throughout the project due to the rough surrounding it. There are high expectations when it comes to Sabre’s work, and unfortunately, this fails to quite hit those heights.