“The Minutes” – Alison Moyet

4 stars (out of 5)

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When I Was Your Girl”, the lead single from Alison Moyet’s eighth solo album, suggests it is business as usual for the big-voiced Essex star; jangly soft rock pop, Radio 2 playlisted if it’s lucky, powerful and instantly identifiable vocal.  You know the sort of thing. It’s a trick though, a decoy and a very welcome one at that. For a very long time, nearly 30 years in fact, I have hoped that Moyet would record an electronic album again, something reminiscent, admittedly, of Yazoo, the 1980’s dream man- woman electro pop duo that Moyet was one half of, and finally it’s arrived; but can anything be worth that long a wait?

 The Minutes” is produced and co-written with Moyet by Guy Sigsworth who has worked with some very big, predominantly female stars. His involvement with Bjork for example resulted in some of her very best work and he encouraged Madonna to be both introspective and accessible on “What It Feels Like For a Girl”, but this doesn’t sound like Bjork or Madonna. It does however contain the same musical blueprint that can be found all over his recent work with Alanis Morissette (the material in question here is much stronger though) and in particular the one-off band he formed with Imogen Heap in 2002, Frou Frou. Entirely electronic, Sigworth favours big gestures both musically and vocally from the artists he collaborates with and with Alison Moyet he seems to have found the perfect, immaculate voice.  “Horizon Flame” is a strong, showy, cinematic start with synthetic strings (which I can always spot and never like), and a brooding mood.  “Changeling” demonstrates early on the worst excesses of Sigworth’s production, which can be very everything but the kitchen sink.  A bit of dubstep, robotic r’n’b, drum ‘n’ bass, you name it, but god it’s nice to have Moyet snarling again; ‘how does anybody get to work like this’ she stroppily demands. Once this is out of the way though, the two really begin to find ways to push and pull each other in some very interesting directions.

Love Reign Supreme” is joyous, speeding pop and “Right As Rain” is a pure, simple electronic dance track, not self-consciously camp, which some may have hoped for, but a tight rhythm track with Moyet seductively taunting the instantly appealing melody. Even better, and there are some brilliantly crafted songs here, is the slower “Filigree” which has shades of “The Winner Takes It All” melodically and musically is straight-up Yazoo.  Whether this was conscious or not we will probably never know but it is such a joy to hear. Moyet inhabits these tracks with an ease and confidence that should be taught, her many years of experience and success shining through and she should be equally credited with some brilliantly imaginative, poetic language in respect to the song writing (‘I fell into a cinema, watching pictures in a dream, shifting the fidget into still, nine other people take their leave’; the opening lines of “Filigree”) which is of a consistently high quality. The final track “Rung By The Tide” merges the kind of folk song structure that has been prominent in Moyet’s more recent work with a pop sensibility, showered with some breath-taking electronics which create a portrait of something wild and beautiful. It’s the sort of thing that Ellie Goulding was aiming for on her last album but didn’t have the wherewithal to pull off.

Alison Moyet has been quoted as saying that this has been the best time she has ever experienced whilst recording an album, the freest she has felt in the studio and most true to what she dared to create now, in 2013. This kind of statement does not necessarily bode well for an artist of Moyet’s stature, it can suggest that self-indulgence and loss of quality control may have run amok but this isn’t the case here, with Guy Sigsworth turning out to her most compatible musical partner since Vince Clarke. It’s lovely to think that after 3 decades and with no jazz standards or cover versions insight, as she feared she would be forced into recording by her record company, Alison Moyet has made a superb grown-up, inventive pop record and satisfyingly, it’s her best yet.