May 19, 2007

Review: SEB's Trip The Light Fantastic



Full disclosure: I am 38 now and good pop music keeps me young. In the past two years I’ve heard a number of albums that manage to capture/mine the same excitement that my favorite 80’s records did. Albums that demand complete attention beyond 3 singles. To paraphrase La Bex: Now that I’ve grown up, I can still move to music as good as this. Trip The Light Fantastic IS and it’s one of the top pop albums of 2007.

Let’s start with candor: Sophie Ellis-Bextor has never really been an “album artist.” Trip The Light Fantasitc (TTLF) places her in that league because she takes risks across these 14 songs. It’s a candy box of pop styles, many of them new for Sophie.

In January we heard a set of great songs from the album and wondered if those were the best. Catch You remains an ass-kicking slice of Blondie dance-rock and the first brilliant pop single (and video) of 2007. If You Go, the very rhythmic Xenomania track, is subtler than most of that production house’s songs and the vocals are laid right up front in the mix. The song is shimmering, but - as is typical - Sophie's vocals have a bit of bite.

The original leaked songs are still fantastic, but hearing the full record is a relief. The plucky Distance Between Us, with its perfect chorus, has the most prevalent component of the album: rubbery synths. Do you get stuck, as I do, on the Your. Heart. Beat bit? China Heart - great title - sounds like early Berlin, a high compliment, while new single Me And My Imagination (Popworld video) is the most classically Bextor-esque song on TTLF, with its disco strings and yaddadadadees.

New York City Lights has a repeating chant delivered with a vocoder and a nice guitar crunch that kind of screams for radio airplay. What really elevates the song is the beautiful middle eight ("Run awayyyyyy with me") that starts at 2:03 and lasts for almost a minute. It is surely one of Sophie’s finest recorded moments.

Today The Sun’s On Us - next single? - is the least English song on TTLF. It’s the kind of album-oriented California rock that few female vocalists get right today. This is Sophie’s Linda Ronstadt Moment – the point being that Kelly Clarkson would have shouted her way through it with faux intensity. La Bex plays it cool: pay attention to the bridge at 2:35 – that’s the kind of detail that makes this album so strong.

New Flame has some nice backing vocals that recall another perfect pop album, 2005’s Come And Get It by Rachel Stevens. If I Can’t Dance is sort of stripped-down, grimy dance rock with some nice BowWowWow drums. It’s wee bit chanty for my taste, but is made better by her clipped Brit accent: If I cahn’t dance, if I cahn’t dance…

Expect Love Is Here, one of her collaborations with Dan Gillespie Sells, to be maligned. I love it and it’s funny to hear The Feeling's 70's AM poprock with Sophie's voice. She recently said this song is her baby Sonny's favorite and one would assume the lyric could easily be about him. It’s the kind of song that would sound great in a convertible on windy summer day.
I’m not so keen on Only One - the one with the lyric about the "windswept eye" - and I’ll probably be in the minority. At least she attempts a sax solo on that one… bold move, baby. Supersonic is fun, but how odd to hear the The B-52’s Fred Schneider pop out from the top of that cake. Great albums should always have a what-the-fuck? moment.

What Have We Started is a perfect album closer and a new sound for her solo career: a modern twist on a 50's/ 60's ballad, with gorgeous girl group backing vocals and a pleasingly large stomper of a beat. However, just when the “official” album is over, comes the real finale. Can't Have It All is quite MASSIVE isn't it? The ticky ticky drum’n’bass is a nice touch and this song surely has one of the great endings in pop music this year. Really, all that's missing is a multi-tracked chorus of ME singing the round at the end. What a perfect, perfect song.

Sophie Ellis Bextor has brought it. Let’s just hope the UK/Euro public is sharp enough to pick up on this fact. It’s not hyperbole to say that there is an alternate universe of pop obsessed kids, indie moppets, aging 80’s tweenies (cough), disco queens in DVF wrap dresses, etc, etc, who would clamor for no less than 7 hit singles from this album, making it the new Thriller. If the difficult third album is indicative of the longevity of an artist, Sophie should be making records when I am long since arthritic and “arm dancing” via a wheelchair…

picture from News Of The World -click to make it huge!

9 comments:

Paul said...

excellent review Mr XO! My favourite track has to be the feeling one ~ It's actually quite quite lovely. Yay for that. I adored the first album, as an album in it's entirety, less smitten with the second and so far wholly impressed with this. But the real shocker is you're 38? No f-ing way! You certainly don't look it...

Tricky said...

Thanks for the track-by-track review. I've been listening and comparing notes.

I think the reason this great, great album works is, perfect pop songs aside, because La Bex sounds like she has lived it. A touch of world-weariness serves a pop diva well: "I'm wise enough to know that you will always haunt me" cannot be sung by a High School Musical cast member.

It's quite a bounce-back, as Baroness du Zapping aludes above. I thought the singles from Album 2 were a let-down after the delights of 'Murder...' etc. This is quite a deliciously different story.

DanProject76 said...

Nice review... but you appear to have 2 more tracks than I do! I think it;s her first real fully-formed album as opposed to some singles and other songs. There is very little padding so that's why I actually bought the CD!

countpopula said...

Don't feel bad about your age XO--we are the same number, and have very similar interests. Your review was great, and I am always returning to your blog for your fun approach to all things pop.

As for SEB, I feel like such an old-school listener, holding out for the whole thing until I get a CD copy in my hands, and I am waiting patiently for an importer to ship it to me. I did get to hear some short clips and the singles though, and just bought the CD single for MAMI for the great B-side (Move to the Music)you recommended. Between this & Siobhan Donaghy, (along with Roisin Murphy), looks like there are a lot of great albums to look forward to this year (and I'll be picking up the new Erasure this week too).

It's really frustrating having to wait for records like Sophie's to make their way to US shores, but like you said, music kinda sucks here, as we tend to lean more toward "keepin' it real", whether it be in rock or urban music. (Amazing that Amy Winehouse and Lily Allen have had the impact here they have.) Unless you really pay attention, the world passes you by, so thanks for reminding people what good, fun pop music is all about.

P.S. Loved your Rufus piece--Release the Stars is quite a musical statement. Apparantly he was in the Philly area yesterday performing at a chain book/CD store and signing his CDs.

Heidi said...

You know? It is sparkling prose. I enjoyed the review as much as I'm sure I'll enjoy the album.

*applauds*

DanProject76 said...

After leaving my comment earlier XO sent me the two 'extra tracks' that I didn't have. They were much appreciated and both rather great.

That is why this is my favourite musicy blog.

Thankyou!

xolondon said...

My copies of the CD and single are on order now, soon to be trundled onto a sleek jet so they can be delivered in glamorous stylee to my penthouse.

Where I will listen to them while drinking a nightcap. I'll call my friends on my rotary beside phone and we'll talk in icey detachment (and raspy, posh accents) about how not makeshift the whole affair is.

xolondon said...

PS: Heidi, where is your icon? Dan, one word: moisturizer.

Adem IAR said...

I'm not sure I want to post the review I wrote up on my site after reading this one, you seem to get the/your point across a lot easier than I have xo... I'll sleep on it, read over it again and make my decision after breakfast I think.

I completely agree that "Love Is Here" is a totally marvelous song. The two key changes at the bottom end of it send waves of euphoria through my body. I'm also quite a fan of "shimmying" my shoulders to the chorus of "If I Can't Dance" in the car...