Monday, April 25, 2011
Sophie Ellis-Bextor "Make A Scene" review
It has to have been frustrating being a fan of Sophie Ellis-Bextor over the past few years. Following her 3rd studio album “trip the light fantastic” a greatest hits was planned, scrapped, a fourth album announced, delayed, Sophie was dropped, signed again, album titled changed…you get the idea. Finally, after all the dust settles SEB finally delivers her fourth album “make a scene” to the masses.
I want to get the negative aspects about this release out of the way. Looking at the track listing one can’t help but think this album has a fan made feel to it. Several previously released songs where Sophie was the featured artists made the album as well as a few tracks that leaked to the web years ago. The project reminds me of an album where fans cobbled tracks from here and there to make an album for the artist. Secondly, I find the release strategy curious. The album was released in Russia this month but will see a UK release in June-about a month after everyone has downloaded the album!
With that said there are a lot of great things about “make a scene” starting with the sleeve design. SEB usually does something artsy like having script on her face or an extreme close up. For album #4 we get a minimal black & white shot with simple text-off to the side. It works nicely as does the flow of the tracks.
1.Revolution: the album opener is a frenetic dance/rock number in the same vein as her “Catch you” single which shouldn’t surprise as Cathy Dennis had a hand in both songs. The song’s repetitive chorus “get on the revolution, get on the revolution” will get stuck in your head but the track itself doesn’t really warrant many repeat listening-one of the weaker moments on the album. (***)
2.Bittersweet: The album’s first proper single was a flop (UK #25) which really surprised me given the strength of the song and production. Bittersweet is a dramatic dance/pop stormer with huge synths and a great melody. (****)
3. Off & On: This song has been available for ages online in several forms- most famously the Calvin Harris mix as well as a competing version by Roisin Murphy. “Off and On” has never been a huge fave of mine but it does the sparse mid-tempo electro/pop sound so well I can see where people enjoy it. (***)
4.Heartbreak make me a dancer: the second Freemason production. Sophie’s collaborations with the Freemasons always produces epic dance music and they really capture the emotion and drama in her voice. There’s not a lot to say about this that hasn’t already been said before. Great stuff. (****)
5. Not giving Up on Love: another collaboration, this time with trance wizard Armin Van Buuren. “Not giving up on love” is a throwback to the days when vocal-trance dominated the charts. The formula is here- pretty female voice, nice lyric and those euphoric synths. This song has a more laid back vibe though so don’t expect pounding trance beats.
6. Can’t fight the feeling: collaboration again! Sophie teams with Victor Caldera for an amazing dance track. The song’s filtered vocals give way to a full-on wall of beats and an amazing melody. Why wasn’t this released in the UK? (*****)
7. Starlight: The album’s next single with production by Richard X. While I fully expect this song to flop I must say this song is beautiful . The dreamy soundscapes, layered sounds and the images the song evokes of a night sky drenched in stars is awesome. AMAZING (*****)
8.Under Your Touch: Sophie declares she is ready for love! The music sounds like a Xenomania production. With an opening synth similar to Dannii’s “all I wanna do” the song explodes into the best girls aloud track they never recorded. (***)
9.Make a Scene: The title track shouldn’t work. It does. "Make a Scene" starts out with some clunky notes and a warbly beat before building into a cool bouncy jam. Is this a dance song? Pop song? Experimental electro? Electronic beeps and tambourine roll while Sophie talks more than she sings. The chorus isn’t strong but combined with the quirky music the title track is oddly my favorite song on the album. (*****)
10. Magic: The 2nd Richard X contribution and PopJustice song of the day. The song is rather pedestrian dance/pop track. Placed earlier on the album it may have stood out more however ten songs in this sounds more like filler. (****)
11. Dial My number: This sounds like a lost track from her debut “read my lips” and the sort of song that clutters a lot Sophie's albums. The beat is punchy and the electronic riffs remind me of Cascada “evacuate the dancefloor” but for me a weaker moment. (***)
12. Homewrecker: The low point of the album for me and definitely album filler. The lyrics try to be from the witty “caught your man cheating” school of thought but the chorus is so flat! Stretching the word “homewrecker” out over and over (HOOOOoooome, Ho-Ho Ho HOMEWRECKER!) is a snooze fest. I would have replaced this with the unreleased "I'm onto you" or "Sophia Lauren". (**)
13. Synchronized: Ballad time! Sophie redeems herself with this Erasure sounding track. The melody and vocal delivery are spot on and the chorus slowly builds, her voice getting higher and higher until the songs starts cascading quickly. Gorgeous! (****)
14. Straight to the Heart: Sophie closes the album with a ballad. At one point the album was titled “straight to the heart” so one can only imagine how personal the lyrics may be to her. The song is a largely piano and strings based affair with slight electronic flourishes. Quite pretty and a nice closer for the album. (****)
Overall Sophie has put together an album that is surprisingly cohesive and arguably her strongest work to date. I don’t know how this album will fair commercially although if I guessed I would say interest in the album will be limited to her fan base. With an album this good I would love to be pleasantly surprised. (****)