Imogen Heap has always been one of the school of geeky art girls refusing to fit in (see Kate Bush, Tori Amos, Bjork, Alanis Morissette etc) with their acrobatic vocals and dictionary flings not destined for the hot pants and crotch pop charts.
So this, her second album proper after her previous collaboration as Frou Frou and the perennial chestnut of a �critically acclaimed’ debut album I Megaphone, has a lot to live up to: to rock the crotch or not is the question, sort of…
For those seeking similar slinky and emotive electronica to that of Frou Frou, be warned. Here, under her own steam it all seems oddly untethered. Pretty, regardless, but nothing to grab your attention as melodies fight for attention to the detriment of the tune and the song. Although the voice is still present in its sweeping Bjork-lite style, and Morrisette psycho-relationship-babble, the music is a wandering, too-clever-by-half affair, with any vestige of tune being bludgeoned by arrangements that seem keen to impress the head rather than any other bodily parts. Mind you, I’m sure science teachers will find a way to dance to it.
Opener Headlock flits past on a wave of bath oils and clunky rhythms that call to mind eighties ‘elbow dancing’ with its synth stabs and wavering vocals. Goodnight and Go recalls the breathy rush of Frou Frou tracks, capturing the peaks of ecstasy brought on by new love, squeaking and bleating on its electronica glitch bed, with its breathless capturing of those first innocent fallings of love and the promise of that first night spent together. Even this sounds oddly dated with bursts of country, and rock guitar peppering the tune. But small niggles aside it is one of the better efforts on here.
In a similar vein I Am In Love With You, with its stalking drum and bass-isms does have its charms. The album’s closing track The Moment I Said It highlights the albums ultimate failings, simplicity. Over a rippling piano, Heap’s vocals shine through with affecting emotion without having to do battle with club footed rhythms and effects.
On the downside, Loose Ends poppy charms are soon diminished by lyrics like, “it’s complicated, triangulated…”. Hide And Seek slow harmonised vocoder poetics makes it sound the poor cousin of a lost ELO track with none of the bouncy cheese. Daylight Robbery has a stab at rocking out and even makes Evanescence sound hard. Have You Got It In You? despite its perverse-sounding title sounds like a sub-Kate Bush trawl with its tribal undercurrents and urgent flights of abstract lyrics – “power clean right out of your suit”?
All in all, this is a trying eclectic album that treads the same arena as Jem (with none of the pop suss), Annie (with none of the cuteness), Alanis Morrisette (with similar kookiness, but none of the attitude). I don’t know what happened with the Frou Frou album, but it ain’t happening here.