February 19, 2007

Review Sarah Nixey's Sing, Memory

Sarah Nixey has it mastered. Her debut solo album Sing, Memory is a true surprise: an elegant, diverse pop record that steers Sarah toward the mainstream while maintaining intelligence and a sense of ice-cool style. I'd actually been worried it might end up a bit too... esoteric. It is cerebral, but not pretentious. Avant without being offputting. A woman who cites (indeed namechecks) Into The Groove as one of her favorite songs, Sarah Nixey cares as much about dance and pop music as she does about artiness.

I called a recent post This is Sarah Nixey Talking and voila, those are the first words on the record, a reference to her previous great moment on Black Box Recorder's Andrew Ridgeley. That's the song in which she spoke about Our Man From Wham being just a like a real live human being, a line that characterizes her subtlety and wit. Sarah did a lot of spoken vocals with BBR and there's less of that here. This is Sarah Nixey singing.

Sing, Memory is buoyed by two spoken interludes which Amurrrricans will eat up. God bless her crisp English diction. The interludes separate the album into two halves, like two sides of a vinyl disc.

Sarah wisely knows that in order to ask for an hour of our time she has to bring many colors. When I'm Here With You offers a retro-ish Felt Mountain sound, while last year's single The Collector is luxe, with its blossoming, catchy chorus. If you haven't seen the video, she rocks an iconic yellow dress as she's running away from... a man with the net, I suppose? The video furthers my theory that Sarah Nixey is the cool Francesca Annis of the electropop set. [ Lillie Langtry era, for those who geddit]

The dancepop gem on the album is Strangelove. In its original form, it was a bit wan, but the song came to life when Sarah and Co. commissioned a set of blazing remixes. My favorite is Mark Lodge's, far superior to any other version. I'd worried a bit that the CD would feature the original version - it doesn't. Instead we get the new "Sing" version, a squeegy dance edit with some pleasing hey heys and twist it inside outs.

The heart of the record is Sarah's masterpiece, the wintry Endless Circles. It's the most seductive kind of pop, revealing itself subtly after several listens. I reviewed this song in more depth here, with a sample you can play.

Other highlights include Hotel Room, which could be T Rex - if he were a beautiful woman, while Nothing On Earth channels early Depeche. Masquerade is also a standout: pop noir, building layer upon layer, until it eventually comes unbound in an epic final minute worthy of Bond credits. [again, details and sample here.]

If the album has any problem, it may be that it's a bit long, with 13 proper songs and 2 interludes. If I were to cut anything, I think it would have to be The Man I Knew and Nightshift, which are not bad, but don't necessarily pop or add a lot.

For her album closer, it might be expected that Sarah would turn it down. Instead, she blasts a wicked Human League cover, The Black Hit of Space, which closes the album on an arty electro high. Listen closely though, the song fits right into the post-mod now, with funny lines like "It had a futuristic cover that was straight from Buck Rogers."

Sing, Memory (cover) deserves your time. It's not an album that leaps out immediately... it gives you a little bit more each time you play it. It's a good sign that my favorite song keeps changing. I urge fans of Goldfrapp, Madonna and Imogen Heap to try Sarah's music. You won't be displeased.

Sing, Memory is out now on iTunes US/ UK, online shops and whatever decent brick'n'mortar record stores still stand.


DanProject76 said...

I already had it pre-ordered but your review convinced me even more!

xolondon said...

Okay, well then if you don't like it you won't yell at me! :)

It does take some playing to pick up the melodies, etc. It's a subtle record.

Phil said...

I think this is the first artist i have to agree to disagree on wit ya. She's very measured but laboured, very clean but anodine and very melodic but tuneless. I know it's subtle but The Black Hit of Space with Ms Nixey just doesn't go anywhere. Methinks it's the almost medieval accent she puts on. xx

xolondon said...

Melodic but tuneless!? Did you like any of her songs? Or is she just not for you?

Phil said...

Erm, Just not for me. There's a kind of Saint Etienne try-hard going on. She's putting in the notes but the tunes just don't come.

countpopula said...

I sampled this at itunes, but am waiting for a "propah" CD, as I own all things BBR. Thanks for the review--I am even more convinced of its greatness.