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Four albums and nine years into a 29 million records-selling career, The Script decided to change things up a bit. It was time, and it was necessary.
The Irish trio had been rocking a creative routine: album, hit singles, tour… album, hit singles, tour… And it had worked: songs like For The First Time, Hall Of Fame, Breakeven and Superheroes had been smashes on a global scale. The Script’s combined YouTube views are one billion, and they’ve had three UK Number One albums. It adds up to a band who are that rarest of things: streaming-era superstars, beloved of any number of inspirational playlists; self-produced singer-songwriters, album artists in the traditional sense; and a huge, all-ages, all-sexes, arena-filling live phenom.
The Script are all of the above, with the sales and international footprint to match.
No Sound Without Silence (2014), the last album by Danny O’Donoghue (vocals, piano), Mark Sheehan (vocals, guitar) and Glen Power (drums, vocals) was a product of that whirlwind: it was written and partly recorded in a studio installed back of the band’s tour bus as they criss-crossed America. Created very much in ScriptWorld, it was the product of momentum and what O’Donoghue described at the time as “that nervous energy coming straight off stage”.
But for their fifth album, the band are very much in the real world, presenting a collection of urgent, timely, future-facing anthems that speak of both real-life events and real-time sonic adventurism. Freedom Child is The Script standing up and standing strong, its title a reflection of the “whole new world we’re in” and its songs demonstrating an energetic embrace of modern pop production.
As Sheehan notes, “it’s getting fearful to go to festivals, it’s getting fearful to go to gigs. We’ve all been affected by recent events in a huge way. But how do we say something as an artist without seeming like you’re trying to ram something down people’s necks, but also make sure people are aware of your message? My eight year old came in to me the other day and said: ‘Dad, what’s terrorism?’ And that was the start of the song Freedom Child,” he says of the driving, uplifting title track, “which is like advice to an eight-year-old kid.”
And, in terms of the challenge of “wrapping up a serious message”, The Script took a route-one approach to the song. “We thought, let’s go uptempo. Just making people bop is sometimes the best way to go.”
Before they switched on, The Script dropped out. After finishing a year’s touring their last album at Rock In Rio in September 2015, the band decided it was time to step off the album/tour treadmill and, “for the first time, to take some time off,” says Mark.
Partly this was down to sheer tiredness. Partly it was necessitated by O’Donoghue needing surgery for nodules – he endured two operations and two months’ silence. Not something that came easily to the charismatic – and, shall we say, gabby – singer who was a hit as a judge on two seasons of BBC1’s The Voice.
Then, with the frontman back to match-fitness by early 2016, “we went on a big musical journey,” continues Sheehan. For most of last year, and into spring this year, The Script pinballed between studios in London and Los Angeles, again producing themselves but this time working, the guitarist notes, “with loads of different people, and then also just ourselves”.
Adds O’Donoghue, recalling he and Sheehan’s pre-band years as R&B producers/writers in the US, “that’s what we used to do before we were The Script – we were just studio rats, hanging out!”
Their self-imposed challenge: how do they reboot The Script? And how do they reflect a rapidly changing world?
“We’d never before had the luxury of time,” observes O’Donoghue. “We’d come off tour, write 12 songs, that’s the album, now we release it. This time we could afford to not rush it, and to throw things away, or to revisit things. That was a blessing.”
In London, they came up with the first keeper: Rock The World.
“If this all ended tomorrow, you can’t take away the fact we were all born with fuck-all in Dublin,” begins Sheehan by way of explaining the lyrics. “And we’ve achieved some great stuff – at home we’ve graced the stage of Croke Park in front of 80,000 fans and as you can imagine behind us stands some very important people, wives and girlfriends, and from that stage we get to look at those people and say, We Rocked the World”.
Moving on to LA, they installed themselves in a small studio, a “mancave” in Santa Monica. They were in the US in the run-up to the Presidential election, and the aftermath.
“Brexit had happened here, now we’re in this crazy atmosphere in America,” recalls O’Donoghue. All around it felt like fault lines were opening up.
Sheehan: “On the actual day that Trump won, I remember saying, jokingly, ‘we better get back to the hotel from the studio quicksmart tonight, in case riots kick off. And they were! There were loads of people in the streets – the unrest was real. This didn’t feel like a country that was together.”
The immediate result was the R&B-flavoured Divided States, a defiant, pissed off-sounding tune on which Sheehan raps out their anger.
Arms Open is another product of the LA sessions. It was written with Nasri Atweh, lead singer with reggae fusion band Magic!, a collaboration begun in some backstage chats at Summersonic in Japan. It already feels like a live set-closing triumph, a welcoming, embracing anthem.
“We wanted to have something that felt positive,” explains Sheehan. “When everything is going shit, our arms are open. It’s a simple, strong message, delivered in a heartland Script sort of way.”
Wonders is another blast of positivity, created with Toby Gad, who co-wrote All Of Me With John Legend. A piano-led club banger, it’s a song about seizing the moment, chasing your dreams and embracing life’s bucket-list.
Those themes of liberation and encouragement are also there in No Man Is An Island. The last song written for the album, it’s a collaboration with Camille Pursell and Jimbo Barry who has co-written and co-produced with the Script for several years. The band explain how Camille channelled her Jamaican heritage into the writing, while Swedish producer Oscar Görres (Maroon 5, Ella Eyre, Tove Lo), helped add to Jimbo's “almost EDM-ish” production.
Finally, but also firstly, there’s Rain, the album’s lead single, recorded back in London at Chiswick’s legendary Metropolis studios. It’s the sound of The Script leading a joyful dance of defiance. “It shows how our sound has moved on,” offers Sheehan, “but it’s still a fucking awesome song!”
“We’re not a preachy band,” says O’Donoghue. “The messages are shot through most of the songs, but it’s not a full-on assault – there are lighter moments too. And Rain is a perfect example of that, and a great way to introduce Freedom Child.”
A mention, too, for the album sleeve art. It’s an image of a youngster standing in a rain-lashed city street, neon wings on his back, with the song titles reflected in the names of the shops. It underpins the sentiments – defiance, escapism, uplift, unity – that run through all the songs.
As Sheehan puts it with typical passion: “We wanted to have a picture that kinda said to kids: ‘Go out there and be free. Create. Write your poems, sing your songs, tell your stories, dance – do all the things that terrorism doesn’t want you to fucking do. Be your fucking selves.”
“We went to a stag do in London last Friday,” chips in Mark Sheehan. “We dressed our mate up in a dress, and paraded him round Soho. No one batted an eye! And that’s the kind of society we want to live in! I love that world, where you can be anything you want.”
“Freedom of expression is one of the most important things in life,” concludes Danny O’Donoghue, “and that inspired us. The only way you can trump hate is with love. Yes, I am a hippie!” the singer laughs. “Music is the one true religion – it doesn’t matter what you look like, whatever your religion or gender or sexuality or gender or whatever.”
Amen to that. With the feelgood, stand-tall, stand-together Freedom Child, The Script have created the perfect soundtrack for now, and for tomorrow.