July 16, 2005
Review: Imogen Heap's "Speak For Yourself"
Imogen Heap’s music is for headphones. A personal experience that swirls around the brain before resting in the heart. Her new solo CD, Speak For Yourself, is instantly one of my top albums of the year thus far, if not the top. Immi's group Frou Frou’s debut CD, Details, was my favorite album of 2002, so I have been frothing for this new music.
Fans of Details might have wondered how Immi would fare without the aid of electronic artiste Guy “What It Feels Like For A Girl” Sigsworth and the answer is just fine. She is a skilled musician who basically created this album in her London flat on a machine, but the music still breathes. Despite the DIY approach, it is thankfully devoid of the dense compression that made Madonna’s American Life sound so… canned. Hell, Imogen even dusts off a live Jeff Beck for this album!
Although it's a clumsy structure, Speak For Yourself is worth a track-by-track review. Imogen appeals to geek fan examination... after all, this is a woman who made little cards to go with albums she was sending out to contest winners.
Love the Immi-esque lyrical hook: “You say too late to start / Got your heart in a headlock.” There’s something very 90’s sounding about the way the song opens into crashing strings, but it holds up well with the harp flourishes on the chorus and the R2-D2 arrangement of beeps, bleeps and bells.
2) Goodnight And Go
Five stars! I’ve written about this track in detail before, but so far it’s my favorite song of 2005. One of her absolute best lyrics, even with the vaguely stalkeresque tone about a (delicious) crush. The maybe-you’ll–miss-your-train bridge is one of the loveliest moments in music in the last 5 years. Hype enough for you? Believe it. [edit: this ended up being my favorite song of the year!]
3) Have You Got It In You
This pretty, dark track reminds me of Frou Frou. The opening bells are terrific and the sound is a mix of unadorned earthly voice on the verses and ethereal voice on the chorus. There’s a lot going on here, but I dig the tribal drum sound on the chorus.
4) Loose Ends
The “complicated, triangulated” chorus is a good sing-along, but the kitchen sink arrangement is a bit much for me. Headphone babies, beware as you drift into sleep, because this one will jar you awake – violently! - about 2 minutes in.
5) Hide And Seek
An all-vocal track that she bravely released to iTunes as an album teaser after it was used on The OC. The song is filtered through a harmonium, so it does not seem a capella (hey, everybody shat bricks when Bjork did it, so please do the same for Immi). It’s actually the first of a few Laurie Anderson-isms and may seem a bit esoteric before you realize how gorgeously sad it is and how perfectly it fits in to the record. A breakup song with a great line about “crop circles in the carpet.”
6) Clear The Area
Immi’s got a knack for taking bits of conversation, signs, directives and slogans and putting them into her lyrics. You’ll hear it on this song, which is in the style of much of the record: not quite a ballad and not quite an uptempo. Does anyone know, is this in a minor key?
7) Daylight Robbery
My least favorite track on the SFY, sorry: the opening guitar assault is reminiscent of Immi’s first CD, I Megaphone, which came out in 1994 in the rush by the labels to find their own angry Alanis Morrissette. A real wall of sound.
8) The Walk
A terrific pop chorus: “I don’t want to be like this / It’s just what I don’t need.” Again with the clangy staccato effect, but it has a really catchy melody and is filled with high-end information for your ears! We dig the piano and la la la vamp near the end, Immi.
9) Just For Now
A delicate ballad with impossibly high vocals. The introduction of piano on the second verse is perfect – why put in a bass when you can put in a piano, hmmm? I swim in this song when I go to bed. It's sort of a vignette of a family at a table during a Christmastime. It ends too soon: “Get me out of here, get me out of here…”
10) I Am In Love With You
Good title huh? You immediately wonder how this song will live up to it. Starts with a sort of Cameo meets Madonna feel (aka “Music”) - you can tell this one was built on a computer. It’s short and spiky. Anyway, about that title, the next line is “…at least for the moment.”
11) Closing In
High art! When you first hear this, you think that Immi should have introduced something very different at this moment on the record, like a male backing vocal or new instrument. She repeat some of her tricks on this one, but somehow the whole is better than its parts and the song is one of the best on the record. At 2:35 the track blasts upward with a really compelling bridge. The spine-tingling drum attack that follows is pretty bitchin’ too. Should have been the final track IMO.
12) The Moment I Said It
Strong lyrics reminiscent of some of the tracks on Frou Frou’s Details. The predominate influence on this one appears to be Tori Amos – just listen to the piano Immi plays throughout. Bonus points for the line “Who are you calling a pissant?” Again with the staccato structure…on first listen many of the songs seem a bit…herky jerky. As the melodies unfold, you don’t notice that so much and the arrangements start to seem more fluid.
Speak For Yourself works very well as cohesive piece. The details (pun intended) are all here: the Laurie Anderson bit at 1:30 of Just For Now or the slide guitar just after that brilliant middle eight on Goodnight And Go. Even the brief piano flourishes in the middle of The Walk – a lot of care went into making this album. Immi has a knack for not exploiting the elements: her songs are filled with genius nooks and crannies, so there is more to discover each time you play the record, but she doesn’t overdo these little ideas. They pop up fleetingly in the songs, not to be repeated and that is one of the primary joys of Speak For Yourself.
Available as of 7/18 at her website or at Amazon UK. Goodnight and Hide and Seek are on US iTunes.