Well, we’ve got to the last of the 2016 crop and what a way to finish. Amanda Rheaume’s “Holding Patterns” is a velvet punch of an album. On the surface it’s a very polished and musically accomplished piece of work with more than a nod in the direction of Nashville, but when you dig a little deeper, it mines some deep lyrical seams. With a variety of musical textures, the element holding everything together is Amanda’s pure, clear and beautifully controlled voice delivering across the musical spectrum from the quiet pathos of “All that You Need” to the raucous energy and amped-up blues harp of “Blood From a Stone”, the album’s Alanis Morissette “You Oughta Know” moment, which references that song in the lyrics.
I’m not normally a fan of albums using a lot of co-writers, but Amanda Rheaume has made it work here, possibly because she went into the project with a very clear idea of the album’s message and every element is harnessed in that cause. There’s a sense of loss that pervades the album, relating to the death of a friend at a tragically young age and the end of a troubled long-term relationship, but that’s what performers do; they make sense of the chaos around them by turning it into beautiful music. Interwoven with sense of loss is a strand of identification with place and family in the true story of a distant relative who survived a landslide at the age of eighteen months (“The Day the Mountain Fell”) and the use of her grandfather’s phrase “Wolf of Time” about the dangers of allowing life to happen around you without taking time to do the things that are really important.
And even after all this, there’s still an ace in the hole. The hauntingly gorgeous “Red Dress” seduces you into falling on love on a musical level while delivering a powerful message about victim-blaming in the cases of indigenous women who are murdered or go missing. The power of the message is amplified by the steady, matter of fact delivery. The album is a triumph of subtle musical settings for historical stories, folk wisdom and the difficulties of human relationships, all delivered by a perfect voice.
“Holding Patterns” is released on Friday December 2 and Amanda Rheaume will be touring the UK in January/February 2017.
So, what happens when you get to The 100 Club just as the doors open for a private event on a Sunday evening? Well, the obvious answer is, not a lot, so plenty of time to check out how the stage set-up looks and work out the best photo angles for later. When that’s done, there are still only four people in the place, so what next? Right, ask the sound engineer about the programme for the night; apparently The Grahams (the band I’ve come to see) are going on at 9:30. Is there a support band, don’t know mate. Oh well, time for another bottle of lager then.
Then, out of nowhere, the door opens and what is unmistakably a bunch of musicians walks in; the instrument cases are always a giveaway. After about half an hour of intensive roadying and oneing and twoing, we have ignition. None of this leaving the stage and coming back to make an entrance; a quick line check on the vocal mics and its 1-2-3-4.
Surprisingly, after all the last minute preparation, The Orange Circus Band was pretty good, playing hillbilly Americana with a constantly changing instrumental line-up featuring bass, acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin and fiddle and featuring a bit of the almost obligatory Woody Guthrie. They finished with the lovely four-part harmonies of the gospel song “I’ll Fly Away” and everyone was happy, but I can’t help wondering how much better they could have sounded, with a full-on soundcheck.
No such problems for The Grahams; they soundchecked before the venue opened and blasted straight into the set with “Griggstown” from the new album, “Glory Bound”. Although Doug and Alyssa Graham’s second album was released this week in the UK, this gig was about the short documentary, “Rattle the Hocks”, made at the same time, about the influence of the railways on the growth of Americana music, which is showing at Raindance Film Festival. Although the album versions of the songs feature full band arrangements, the songs are so good that they all work with two guitars, two voices and a bit of percussion. The set featured mainly material from “Glory Bound” including “Kansas City”, the folky and personal “Blow Wind Blow”, the album’s closing song, “The Promised Land”, “Tender Annabelle” from the bonus tracks and the double entendre-laden “Biscuits”. All of those were delivered with style and panache, but there were also a few very special moments.
About halfway through the set, the first highlight was the gospel-tinged and deeply personal “Mama”, which was the first really emotional moment, followed fairly quickly by “The Wild One”, which is a standout track from the album. It’s a tragic coming-of-age story with a huge uplifting chorus and it’s a single if I ever heard one. It’s gorgeous. “Lay Me Down” was another album high point which translated perfectly to a more stripped-down format and had Alyssa shifting from her pure and clear country tones to something much more like Alanis Morissette or eighties Marianne Faithfull. Which just left “Glory Bound”, inspired by Woody Guthrie’s “The Farmer-Labor Train” as the unplugged encore and a final lovely moment.
Seeing The Grahams live was quite an experience. Doug and Alyssa built a warm rapport with the audience by talking about the film, the album and their relationship, emphasised by their obvious onstage chemistry. The songs are intensely personal and are delivered with passion, power and beautiful harmonies; by the end of a gig, you’ll feel elated but wrung-out. If you missed this one you can catch them on their UK tour in November.
Well it’s taken us a while to get this one together after I was left speechless (I know, that’s difficult to believe) as I watched Sound of the Sirens’ unique set of twentieth century acoustic anthems in support of Mad Dog Mcrea earlier this year. When I heard they were coming to London to appear live on the open mic session on Chris Evans’ show on Radio 2, it was an opportunity that was too good to miss. Here’s what happened when they turned up south of the river, buzzing with adrenaline and caffeine and ready to tell the world about it:
Allan – Well, it’s been five months since I saw you at The Half Moon in Putney. Quite a lot has happened since then, so tell me what’s been going on?
Abbe – Doing the mini tours with Mad Dog completely exhausted us, left us on-our-knees-tired, but always worth it because they’re lovely. Then we applied to Glastonbury and Mike Mathieson of Mad Dog, who knows everyone, who knows everyone, who knows everyone, said try these people so we tried other avenues, followed the routes he gave us and one of them paid off. They must be inundated with people applying, so even to get a ‘Oh hello girls, yes, brilliant, we’ll have a look at what you do’, we were excited, and then getting that email to say we’d got in to Glastonbury was just brilliant.
Hannah – We screamed and jumped on couches.
Abbe – I couldn’t see because I smiled so much my eyes closed.
Allan – That started off with one gig, didn’t it? How many did you end up with at Glastonbury?
Hannah – Four in the end, because each stage only has a certain amount of tickets to give out, so once you’re in there, they want acts.
Abbe – So we just ran around begging people to play…
Hannah – And they had us.
Abbe – And it was quite funny because one of the best gigs we did there was the backstage hospitality and catering for all the staff, who were just hilarious and they were so up for a party because they’d been working all day and everybody was in such good spirits. To do the sort of mini-gig in their world within Glastonbury was really fun and then we realised that was the way forward, so we started approaching all the backstage bars like the Circus Tent. Who knows, if we get back next year it would be nice to go and play some more of those.
Allan – Was it at Glastonbury that Chris Evans saw you, initially?
Abbe – I think a few people have put that on Facebook, haven’t they, and people just assume that, but we got in to Carfest (North) through a lovely girl called Chloe who put us on to the Wigwam Stage and when we were there she said ‘I’ve also managed to put you forward for the friends and family glamping area…’
Hannah – I’ve still got my band on for good luck…
Abbe – And we said ‘Oh brilliant, that’s great’ and she said ‘I don’t think you realise what a deal this is; this is an access all areas pass, even I can’t get in to these areas’. So me and Hannah put on these bands and waltzed around Carfest flashing our bands here, there and everywhere and it was just brilliant. So we went to set up and we had to do the sound as well, so we were having this big faff and panic when Bob Geldof walked in. It was just berserk and then we set up and it was a lovely tent; everyone was outside around the fire enjoying themselves, so we just settled in to the fact that ‘It’s cool that we’re here but no-one’s really going to watch and we might meet Chris Evans if he comes by but we’re just the background and that’s that.’ Then in walked Chris Evans and sat about two metres in front of us tapping the table and with his feet tapping. If someone had filmed us, the reactions on our faces would have been so funny but then he stayed for the entire set. Brilliant.
Hannah – Me and Abbe couldn’t look at each other.
Abbe – We’ve developed this thing over the last few weeks where we have to avoid eye contact with each other.
Allan – So that was what led to this morning.
Hannah – Yeah. We played at Carfest, then we got a text message from Chris the next day, back at the van…
Abbe – We gave him our CDs the night before…
Hannah – And we spoke to him and he said ‘What can I do for you girls, I listened to your CD this morning.’
Abbe – To which we coolly said ‘OK’. (Laughter all round). It was really funny because we went back to the tent to get breakfast and he came in and said ‘Hello again, I’ve got your music playing in my car and I’ll take your details and get in contact and we’ll sort this out.’ So we were just trying to be really cool and collected. He’s so friendly, he’s so down to earth; he’s lovely. And he left and the chef who was making everybody breakfast just came over and leaned on the table and went ‘Look at you trying to keep it together’
Then we got a text saying ‘Let’s sort this out’ and we thought ‘Shall we just give him a ring? Who dares wins…’
Hannah – Then we got invited to The Mulberry Inn, his pub, to play and open mic night last Friday which was amazing and we ended up playing our whole set at the end of the night.
Abbe – It was two songs, then it was four. Then ‘No, don’t stop, we’ll tell you when to stop. Right, close the doors, keep playing”. It was brilliant.
Hannah – Then he saw the state of us in the morning the next day…
Abbe – And he still liked us.
Allan – And presumably that’s what led to where you’ve been this morning; at Radio 2.
Abbe – (More laughter) That was the long answer.
Hannah – It was the teapot that did it; the teapot in the van, our RAC van. (Probably too complicated to explain here, but it’s a good excuse to point you in the direction of the show on iPlayer at 1:42:20 and 02:25:55).
Allan – And how it did it go at Radio 2?
Abbe – Amazing! It’s so funny; we were obviously nervous, but I don’t think I‘ve thought about it enough this week because it’s been a case of ‘Right this is happening, get that planned get this organised, do that…” that you don’t actually think about what you’re planning towards until suddenly the day was here and my stomach was just turning in circles. Then we got there and it was fine, don’t even think about it, don’t look at Facebook, don’t look at your phone, don’t look at messages, don’t think about everyone we know sitting around the radio like the 1940s or something listening to us.
And then I went off to the toilet and you see faces that you know so I just did this casual nod like ‘Oh there’s my friend, oh hello, oh wait, no, that’s Moira Stuart…aaargh!’
Allan – I listened to it and I was listening out for any signs of nerves; I couldn’t hear any at all.
Hannah – That’s brilliant. We haven’t heard it back yet so we don’t know how it sounded.
Abbe – There was a point where I felt a bit bleaty; there was a lot of nervous vibrato…
Allan – Was it the intention for you to do two songs right from the start?
Hannah – He had asked us to do one and then the producer said that he wanted us to do two…
Abbe – But then the way it was all structured today with us playing and then Jonas and Jane and Mancie Baker we were just waiting to see what happened because obviously they’ve got their playlist and you can see it all on the computers everywhere and people are running in handing him text messages and notices and I thought there was a good intention but it might not happen because they’re on such a schedule and then suddenly… He doesn’t give you much notice for things does he? Everything’s so casual, like Chris knows what’s going on, but no-one else does.
Allan – Do you know if they filmed any of it?
Abbe – I don’t know. I think there were notices around saying if the red light’s on, there’s a webcam being broadcast, and on the red button (interactive) you can see the DJs, so there may well be something.
Allan – So, to go back a bit, How did Sound of the Sirens start?
Hannah – Many moons ago. We met each other about ten years ago when we worked in a nightclub together and clicked and got on really well. Then we started singing together, probably about three years later?
Abbe – Probably about that. I remember being sitting in your Mum and Dad’s house singing and your Mum going ‘Oh, that’s nice’ and then when you moved house we used to sit there doing harmonies on “Chasing Cars”.
Hannah – We started a band called Route Two, but we soon realised that was a bit of an error.
Abbe – We had two gigs supporting the Fab Beatles in Devon.
Hannah – And the amazing Kev Day (of the Fab Beatles), was really supportive and encouraged us.
Abbe – Then we left that and joined a functions band with Lisa, so there were three of us and then we became Sound of the Sirens when we got bored of singing covers and thought let’s write our own music.
Hannah – And learn to play guitar.
Abbe – Then Lisa fell in love and moved to London and there was good intention there for us to stay together but it just didn’t happen. We got lovely messages from Lisa this morning. She’s been so supportive throughout; we still see her all the time. I think people always want some scandal, you know, what happened to the third one?
Allan – It must be difficult keeping a band together in those circumstances, it’s like trying to keep a relationship together at long distance.
Abbe – Especially when it’s essentially a hobby, when you’re working full-time and then every weekend you’re committing to a band and trying to keep a relationship going and you live in a different city, it’s just never going to happen, but we’re all still really good friends.
So, Sound of the Sirens has been going six years, nearly seven and it’s been me and Hannah for the last three. When Lisa was with us, we just had a very simple stomp box in the middle which Johnny (band chauffeur, organiser, minder and all-round good bloke) fashioned out of MDF with a mic in a box; job done. Then Lisa left and to fill that gap we added in the floor tom and the tambourine.
Allan – Well that’s my next question ruined then. I was about to ask if the percussion had been there right from the start because that’s quite a big element of what you do, isn’t it?
Abbe – I think it is now, more than it was originally.
Hannah – It was difficult trying to choose songs today for Radio 2 without the percussion; it was quite tough because a lot of our songs are driven by the rhythm.
Abbe – (To Hannah) Did you notice this morning that when they said ‘We’ve got the mics set up, girls, can you try and stand still?’. We’re used to floor tom and tambourine to bashing our feet around on everything and it’s really difficult to stand still; we were air drumming.
Hannah – So it did take a while in the beginning; we were often at random beats, flying everywhere.
Allan – So my really big question now is how do you decide who gets to play the floor tom, because you don’t always have the same configuration?
Abbe – I think naturally… I can’t even remember how we did that in the beginning; I think I must have just done the drum on one song and stayed on it, because I drum a lot and play tambourine a lot and I think we just got used to doing the on beat or the off beat, so it’s difficult when you try and change it. There are songs that we swap…
Hannah – Because of the rhythms we’re playing on the guitar, and sometimes trying to do the opposite on the drum felt, at the time, a bit impossible because we were new to it so we just did whatever worked more naturally.
Abbe – I think we probably could do it now but it’s quite nice to swap and do something different. We wouldn’t get that lumpy thing when you’re drumming and you lose it and go all ‘lost it: lumpy leg’.
Allan – When you first started writing your own material, who were you influenced by?
Hannah – I think you’ve got influences wedged in your brain anyway from when you were growing up; from when you were little and teenage years; we used to listen to very different types of music.
Abbe – What was the music in your household, growing up?
Hannah – The music was Led Zeppelin, Bob Dylan, a bit of Alice Cooper; my Mum only had one CD really and that was Alex Parks (More laughter). Love you Alex Parks, but… And as a teenager, I tried to be cool; I listened to a bit of happy hardcore, but I think that was on purpose, just trying to be cool and I don’t do that anymore. And Hanson, Gloria Estefan as an eleven-year-old (Hannah, not Gloria).
We had our own influences but together, the bands that we loved when we started playing, were Mumford and Sons, Damien Rice…
Abbe – We were saying that this morning weren’t we? I grew up with country; my dad’s really into country music, we’re talking Foster and Allen.
Allan – Not outlaw country then…
Abbe – No; on Sunday mornings I can remember me and my brother, our bedrooms were next to each other, and we were ‘He’s doing it again!’ and shouting at Dad who was downstairs singing. My Mum was really into The Kinks and The Carpenters and me and my sister used to record ourselves singing Carpenters songs because we loved Karen Carpenter so much and those were our growing up songs.
Freddie, my older brother, was really into Nirvana so I tried to get into that, just because you have to follow what your older brother does. I think it’s a mix of everything but definitely there’s a few bands in your lifetime that really stand out and Mumford and Sons came to Exeter and they played at the Exeter Cavern supporting Johnny Flynn and I went along with my boyfriend Woody to watch Johnny Flynn. When the support act came on, we were both blown away so we were looking for them online and there was nothing for ages and the next thing you they’ve got an album launch at Thekla in Bristol. Then we went to watch then on New year’s Eve in London and we saw them right from their roots and watched how they exploded and I just think at the time they burst on to the scene they were so original and I’m so inspired them, we both are.
Hannah – Yeah. And female singers as well; Alanis Morissette…
Abbe – Oh yeah, and Natalie Imbruglia who coincidentally is there (Radio 2) tomorrow. So exciting; we could say we were her support act, maybe?
Allan – I always like to ask songwriters about this; when you write now, how does that process work? How do you create songs; do you have a fixed way of working?
Abbe – Different ways; I like taking things from books, certain words. Part of my degree was textual practices in finding ways to make songs and poetry and taking certain things and linking them together. I’ve got this American verse book that we would take some stuff from. Also, just walking along, if an idea comes into your head, just finding a quiet place to sing it into your phone and record it, so we’ve got little snippets of half-made ideas.
Hannah – Some of them are experiences that we had, conversations written down, so each song is born in a different way. There’s a different story behind each one, we haven’t really got a formula.
Allan – With your songs, I think I said something like this in a review, it’s not just the words or the rhythms, it’s the way they work together. I find that interesting and it feels like a lot of effort must go into that, or does it just come naturally?
Hannah – I think because we teach and we’re constantly playing pop songs, I think we do get used to songs sounding quite samey so I think we work against that and make sure that the melodies aren’t just going with the chords and it’s not just an obvious structure. I think that’s why we don’t come out with a song every day, because we want to make sure that they are different and stand out.
Abbe – I think, as well, not being too precious with what you create because sometimes you come up with a song quite quickly and you sit there going ‘Yeah brilliant, job done. Let’s go and have some food. We’re sorted’. Then you come back to the song in a week and go ‘I don’t like it it’s really happy, it’s really cheesy; let’s make everything minor notes and change it and just play around with it until it works…
Hannah – Until we’re both happy with it.
Allan – And lyrically, some of it’s quite dark and Gothic as well, isn’t it?
Hannah – We’re massive angsty teenagers inside.
Abbe – We played at a wedding a few weeks ago and we always make a point of saying (it’s only friends and things who would ask us to play, and we’re really flattered) that we’re not wedding material; people wants songs they know and people want to dance. So we sat down to write a setlist and we’re saying ‘Oh, no, not that one that’s really dark, and not that one, that’s about a breakup, and that one’s about a horrible person and that one’s really negative’. All of our songs are big and quite punchy but they are quite dark.
Hannah – Positively sad songs.
Abbe – Shiny darkness.
Allan – Ok, and just to finish up on, what’s going to happen in the future. Where do we go from here?
Hannah – We’ll get a call later today with a record deal offer.
Abbe – The head of Virgin’s just tweeted or sent you an email, so we’ll probably deal with Richard Branson later.
Hannah – And Chris Evans is going to manage us personally as well.
Abbe – Yeah, he’s going to open a new label. We’re playing at Looe Festival. We’re playing at Carfest (South) next week…
Hannah – We didn’t mean all that, by the way, that was only joking…
Abbe – But we’re playing at Carfest next week and we’re opening the Main Stage with a few songs, which is brilliant. Jools Holland’s going to be playing there, so obviously we’re going to make that contact as well, so we’ll be on “Later…”, then “TFI Friday” and then we’re set. That’s it, so it’s as simple as that.
Allan – Well that sounds good to me…
As ways to start the night go, having a chinwag with Joe Brown in the toilets at The Half Moon is a pretty good, if slightly surreal, one. So what’s he doing there on a Monday night? Perfectly obvious really; both Mollie Marriott and her support act Mo Evans are family and Joe’s there to support them. And he’s not the only one. Judie Tzuke (one of Mollie’s writing partners) has shown up as well. There’s a bit of a buzz around this show because it’s the debut for Mollie’s full band, and most of the audience is anticipating some new material as well.
But before we get to that, there’s a short set from Mollie’s nephew, Mo Evans, who’s a singer-songwriter in the confessional mould. Armed with only an acoustic guitar, a capo and some interesting tunings, he manages to grab the audience from the start. It’s a difficult job at the best of times, particularly when your songs don’t have too many happy moments, but they’re a pretty good crowd and he gets them onside. There’s a particularly nice moment at the end of the set when his guitar amp gives up and he reacts by jumping down from the stage and gathering the audience around him to finish the set completely unplugged.
Mollie’s been doing acoustic gigs and radio appearances recently with Johnson-Jay Medwik-Daley (guitar and backing vocals) and Izzy Chase-Phillmore (backing vocals) and this line-up is augmented for the album material by Sam Tanner, Alex Reeves and Henrik Irgens (keyboards, drums and bass). There’s an assurance about the band’s performance that only comes from putting in the hours in rehearsal; there should be some nerves showing on the first outing with new material but they’re well hidden. The band are all great individual musicians but this is about working together to showcase the songs and Mollie’s voice. Oh yes, that voice; it’s powerful and pure and strong (which you would expect from someone who’s worked extensively as a backing singer) but when she pushes it towards the limit, there’s a raw emotional edge there that you only find in the truly great blues and soul singers. On top of all that, she’s a genuinely engaging stage personality who has a great rapport with her band and the audience.
The set features the two singles “Ship of Fools” and “Transformer”, the Alanis Morissette cover “Mary Jane” and a selection of new material from the album, including “Give Me a Reason” which features some lovely harmonies from Izzy and Johnson-Jay; the audience loves it. There’s a huge amount of love and mutual respect on stage but also between the band and the audience, which all helps to create a perfect live music experience. The Half Moon isn’t full by any means, but anyone who was there will be spreading the word.
So, is 2015 the breakthrough year for Mollie Marriott? It certainly looks like this is the right time for the big push; she’s been around the music business for a few years now and she’s highly respected as a backing vocalist, but she now has an album’s worth of songs, a tremendous band behind her, a label and a good support team. And, in case I hadn’t mentioned this already, a phenomenal voice. “Transformer” is already generating media attention and picking up local radio playlistings, and with the album coming out later this year, this just might be Mollie’s time; I really hope so.
Well, first gig of 2015 and it’s my first visit to The Hospital Club near Covent Garden to see Mollie Marriott play an acoustic set at ‘Vin’s Night In’. The former St Paul’s Hospital has an unassuming exterior on Endell Street which opens into an Aladdin’s Cave of bars, television and recording studios, an art gallery, a restaurant and a live music space, so guess where we’re heading (after the bar)? The Oak Room is a cosy 125-capacity space with a nice sound system and, more importantly, a good sound engineer. Musically, ‘Vin’s Night In’ is about giving a break to up-and-coming or undiscovered talent and we’re not about to argue with that.
So, first up musically was Louis Dunford and the impact was immediate. His highly distinctive deadpan vocal delivery works perfectly as a vehicle for his songs of adolescence and teenage years in London in the Lily Allen era mid-noughties. The lyrics are well-crafted and witty, and feel like a darker, grittier version of “Alright, Still”. It’s only a short set, but the audience love “When We Were Hooligans”, Saturday Night/Sunday Mourning” and “London’s Requiem”. Let’s hope his mum forgave him for “When We Were Hooligans”. Chaz Thorogood was next up, turning in an interesting set which relied on his loop pedal a little bit too much for my liking, but which finished on a spacy, psychedelic cover of “Toxic” with not even a hint of that annoyingly catchy hook; fair play to him for that.
After a quick interval and a one-song cameo appearance (sounding great without the benefit of a soundcheck) from singer-songwriter Bea Munro, it was time for Mollie Marriott.
It’s hard to believe that Mollie Marriott’s been involved in the music business for nearly twenty years now. She started at the age of twelve with her girl band D2M and has been involved in music ever since, racking up a very impressive list of backing vocal credits. After hearing her with the Jim Stapley Band, I’ve been looking out for a solo gig and this was it. Mollie was joined by Jim Stapley band members Johnson Jay Medwik-Daley (for the entire set) and Izzy Chase-Phillmore (for most of the set); you’d be surprised at how big one guitar and three voices can sound. Even within the limits of a short acoustic set which included the two singles “Ship of Fools” (a World Party cover) and “Transformer” (co-written with Judie Tzuke and Graham Kearns) and a cover of Alanis Morissette’s “Mary Jane”, Mollie displayed a very impressive dynamic range and the ability to engage effortlessly with the audience.
What sets Mollie Marriott apart from the thousands of performers who can sing well is that she has a lot more than the powerful pure pop voice of “Transformer”; she can push it to the limit to bring out the ragged emotional edges that work so well with blues and soul songs. As a singer, she’s the real deal and it’s looking like she can write as well. This should be a big year for Mollie, with a new album due out in 2015; let’s hope it gives her the breakthrough her talent deserves.
You can see Mollie playing with her band at The Half Moon in Putney on Monday 23 February.
“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.