While recording the minutes, her first solo album since 2007′s The Turn, Alison Moyet said she avoided listening to any music beyond the studio, so concerned was she that outside influences may push her vocals and music in unwanted directions. Instead, she wholly entrusted herself to the hugely versatile songwriter-producer Guy Sigsworth, famed for his work with Imogen Heap (Frou Frou), Björk and Madonna.
Indeed, even before listening, the minutes seems more of a paired effort than a purely solo one for Moyet – Sigsworth co-wrote and produced the entire album. This is something Moyet does allude to. “Sigsworth returns me to a programmer’s world,” she says, “and marries it with perfect musicality. I have been waiting for him.”
She adds: “We have made an album mindless of industry mores that apply to middle-aged women and have shunned all talk of audiences, demographics and advert jazz covers. This has easily been my happiest studio experience.”
Moyet’s point about producing an album that consciously shirks the desires of the market – and of middle-aged women – is telling. Many will still lazily associate Moyet with Yazoo, in turn making her an easy target for those clamouring for 1980s nostalgia and a return to old territory. Instead, Moyet has determinedly gone out to produce something that asserts her musical talent and holds wide critical appeal. In essence, she wants to be seen as relevant – and her partnership with Sigsworth offers that chance.
Album opener Horizon Flame highlights Sigsworth’s influence from the off, with its Björkesque Homogenic strings and beats pulsating in the background and producing something in-between experimentation and head-on pop. Here, Moyet’s vocal takes a backseat; it’s rather modest and reserved, with beats and the track’s production at the forefront, while Sigsworth’s combined use of electronica and panning is effective, particularly if you’re one for wearing big headphones.
Meanwhile, following track Changeling leans towards mid-to-late Madonna, with its touches of R&B and full-blown synth-pop. Again, the production and backing take complete control but this time it’s to Moyet’s disadvantage; it’s extremely overproduced, with her vocal sounding rather robotic and contained. It isn’t suited and, in turn, restrains her in the process. Certainly not what was intended.
At this point, one worries that Sigsworth is trying to get Moyet to tick the boxes necessary for potential acclaim: a bit of Björk here, a touch of Madonna (who hasn’t been critically successful for years anyway) there. However, single When I Was Your Girl sees Moyet take more control; her emotionally raw and powerful vocal delivers lines such as “and then today, all the nightmares came my way… you were never satisfied, when I was your girl” and is ideally complemented by grand sounding strings, powerful bass and equally powerful guitar. Everything a song about a failed relationship needs, delivered with a huge wallop.
From there, the balance between Moyet and Sigsworth becomes more equal – and it pays off. Apple Kisses brings together elements of Moyet’s Yazoo past with contemporary sounding dance beats, while Right As Rain takes this further and sees Moyet become pleasingly feisty: ”If you can’t find rest in my bed, then don’t bother your head, lie awake there instead… may you never sleep again, so and may you never reap again, as right as rain”.
Yet track Love Reign Supreme acts as the ultimate crossover between Yazoo-era and current Moyet: fantastic sounding ’80s-style high-tempo loops, coupled with Moyet’s mature sounding vocal – the one that, she says, “I now find myself with 30 years in”. This then fades out and introduces A Place To Stay, featuring haunting organ, Portishead-like loops, brooding synth and more emotionally fraught vocals: “I’ve got to leave you now, even when I don’t know how, I’m never gonna look away from your precious face”.
The album’s final two tracks take the album towards a dance-cum-experimental sound; All Signs Of Life begins languidly before erupting to life with drum and bass sequences – Moyet’s sultry vocal working well here – while album closer Rung By The Tide brings with it a sort of gothic darkness, helped particularly by the toiling bells, falsetto choir sounds and Moyet’s vocal: ”Slip me into a simmering sea, let salt waters suckle me”. One can’t help but think of Macbeth, here.
Despite initial concerns, Moyet’s presence gains stature and confidence as the minutes progresses, with Sigsworth’s production and her vocal eventually working together ever so well; the claim of “perfect musicality” can, at times, be justified. They’ve forged a varied, at times surprising, but overall successful partnership; Moyet’s decision to entrust herself entirely to Sigsworth’s guidance was a good one. Four decades in, Moyet is as relevant as ever.