Paul Mescal has released his first song. We don’t expect it to trouble the charts

Slip Away is a fine showcase for the star’s plangent, expressive voice. He’s squeaky, but it’s a heartfelt squeak layered with pain

October will mark the 20th anniversary of Paddy Casey’s Living, a record that stomped all over the charts and that, in hindsight, represented the commercial high-water mark of the Irish singer-songwriter explosion. It was a genre sometimes lampooned as a chilling final victory for knitted sweaters and man angst. Two decades later, though, it continues to come back around in unexpected ways.

Irish “woolly jumper” pop was a huge influence on the young Ed Sheeran, whose life changed when he went to see Damien Rice at Whelan’s at the age of 14. And you can hear echoes of it in the new single by Paul Mescal. Yes, Paul Mescal, the Maynooth-born Oscar-nominated actor who single-handedly kept our lockdown woes at bay with Normal People. And who then reduced audiences to teary blobs as a struggling dad in Aftersun, a searing rumination on fatherhood, childhood trauma and depression.

Mescal gives it the full Whelan’s-circa-2004 on his song Slip Away. He has a sweet, high-pitched voice that suggests Rice and Declan O’Rourke undergoing a Vulcan mind meld. The lyrics are similarly heartfelt: “A river come and carry me,” he croons, “till I return to Eskimo and stone.”

“Eskimo and Stone” sounds like a pretty decent Hozier B-side. Mescal and Hozier have yet to rub shoulders creatively, but the actor has been in the orbit of many of the leading songwriters of the era. He was in a relationship with Phoebe Bridgers – more than that, appeared in the video for her single Saviour Complex and last November duetted with her on a cover of So Much Wine, by The Handsome Family.


Mescal’s sister, Nell, is an upcoming songwriter in her own right (though more in the Clairo bedroom-pop vein). And Mescal sang with Dermot Kennedy in a live-stream from a museum in London in the summer of 2020 (an event that could only have happened at peak pandemic). He also has a background in musical theatre. At school in Maynooth his love for performance was stoked by an appearance in a production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera.

So how does Slip Away stand up as a song? It is a fine showcase for Mescal’s plangent and expressive voice. He’s squeaky, but it’s a heartfelt squeak layered with pain.

Given how much of himself he puts into the material, it’s slightly disappointing to learn that he didn’t write it. And that it is essentially part of the marketing campaign for his next film, a modern interpretation of the opera Carmen, directed by the choreographer Benjamin Millepied (aka Mr Natalie Portman, whom he met when they were both working on the 2010 film Black Swan).

Slip Away is being billed as an original song. It’s just not Mescal’s original song. It’s by Nicholas Britell, the composer best known for the unsettling theme to Succession, and Taura Stinson, who has collaborated with Usher and Paloma Faith.

Paul Mescal teaming up with an Usher cowriter and the guy who did the Succession music is not something we could have predicted when Sally Rooney made him a star three years ago. Nor would anyone have expected the results to sound a bit like Paddy Casey covering Jeff Buckley.

That is what they have achieved, however, and while the results won’t give Phoebe Bridgers sleepless nights, they confirm that when Mescal mumbled his way through Normal People he was only getting started. Slip Away is a fragile, self-contained moment from the actor, and it’s difficult to argue with its emotional punch.

Ed Power

Ed Power

Ed Power, a contributor to The Irish Times, writes about television and other cultural topics