I’m about to write another piece on an album by artist where I have failed to explore the full catalogue of said artist.
I think in many ways this is kind of consistent. I’m writing about albums that have affected me and actually in a lot of cases I’ve legitimately stuck with something that works and not wanted to ruin it.
Weirdly there’s a split. I guess, thinking specifically about the 00’s (however you just pronounced that in your head – that’s the correct way), I went one of two ways. There are artists I doubled down on and listened to loads of their stuff (not many actually): Ben Folds, Dave Matthews Band, David Ford, Matchbox Twenty. But there were other artists I just landed on one album and left it at that: Elliot Smith, The Head and the Heart, Weezer (not going to admit which album on that one), Lemon Jelly, Jami Sieber, Badly Drawn Boy and yes, Imogen Heap.
Ultimately I’m not sure this is the best strategy. And I fundamentally disagree with myself when I said “not wanted to ruin it”. You can’t ruin something amazing with something else that isn’t as good. Despite what legion staggeringly pointless internet comments assert. So I guess I’ve got some homework to do.
Anyway. Enough of the digression. I first heard Imogen Heap on the radio. It was either Scott Mills or Chris Moyles, I forget which now, but they played Hide and Seek. To me at the time it felt quite brave. When I conjure up a mental picture of Radio 1, it’s hustle and bustle and things happening and talking talking talking. Hide and Seek contains space. (..ace…ace…ace…). The contrast was stark. And it’s beautiful. Ironically, given the title, there’s nowhere to hide for the melody and the lyrics. Unless you believe that the harmony effect used would somehow transform a terrible melody into a good one.
Aaaaaaand, I’m not sure I got as far as checking out the album on the basis of the single. To my chagrin. The timeline isn’t completely clear. I do know that at one of my sister-in-law’s dance shows they were playing the album before and after the show as well as in the interval and a couple of the tracks caught my ear. I assume someone then introduced me to the album, but I can’t quite remember unfortunately.
When I did finally sort my shit out I was enormously pleased that I did. Hide and Seek isn’t necessarily indicative of the tone of the album. In some ways quite the opposite, and it feels like a deep breath after the first third of the album. Although in terms of creativity and songwriting, it’s in good company. And the vocal effects and playing with harmony are a recurring theme (for instance, Daylight Robbery‘s intro, the backing vocals on Have You Got It In You?, the vocal soundscape of Just for Now etc..).
I’d describe the general vibe as synthy pop. But with singer-songwriter overtones (pretty sure that’s guitars I hear in Goodnight and Go and Daylight Robbery1). Genre was never my strong suit. The whole thing pops and sparkles with a wash of electronic beeps, boops, sweeps and swoops. The synth pop that I’ve heard over the last couple of decades is strongly reminiscent of the 80s to me, but this sounded and still sounds more modern to me. Although I’m almost certain I detect a Tubular Bells influence on Clear the Area. Regardless of the production, the heart of these songs is the melody (and yes, sometimes the attendant harmonies).
Heap’s vocals work beautifully, although the delivery is generally rather breathy. I do sometimes wish there was a little more grit in there, although that’s personal preference and not to everyone’s taste in pop. Not that she can’t sing with conviction, but there are times when the lyrics seem to call for a little more fire (Loose Ends‘ “Not now, not ever, no it’s never a good time / How will the good times ever roll on?” springs to mind). As I say though, this is a taste issue and not really a massive gripe.
Standout tracks for me are (obviously) Hide and Seek, the anthemic The Walk, the frantic energy of Daylight Robbery and Headlock‘s slow burn, which for me works perfectly as the opener. At that point it gets hard to choose between the rest so that’s good I reckon.
All that remains is for me to suggest that you check the album out and let it…. speak for itself. No? I’ll get my coat.
1 I’m being facetious, I know that singer/songwriter doesn’t strictly equal guitars. Sometimes they use pianos2.
2 Still facetious. Probably.