As astounding as this may seem, it was well over 10 years ago that the MySpace artist became a phenomenon. The first social networking tool to really take hold of the popular imagination, it was responsible for the rise of Lily Allen, Kate Nash and, most famously, Arctic Monkeys. For the first time, artists could bypass traditional means of promoting their music, and upload it directly to fans.
Ren Harvieu was such an artist, uploading demo tracks to MySpace which were then discovered by Jimmy Hogarth, best known for managing the likes of Amy Winehouse and Duffy. Hogarth became her manager, she was listed on the BBC Sound of 2012 poll, and she began to record an album. And that’s when everything began to go horribly wrong.
Before the release of her debut, Through The Night, Harvieu broke her back in an accident. That obviously affected the promotion of the record, she had to cancel her coveted Glastonbury slot, and eventually her contract with Island Records was terminated. From then, apart from a couple of guest spots with artists such as Ed Harcourt, it’s all been very quiet for Harvieu.
Until now, that is. Eight years after that debut album, we have the follow-up Revel In The Drama. There’s a sense that her new label, Bella Union, is a far better fit for her, and she also has a new creative partner in the shape of Romeo Stodart of The Magic Numbers. Stoddart has obviously brought out a new, more experimental side to Harvieu, as Revel In The Drama is a much richer listen than Through The Night.
For, as good as Through The Night could be, this is where you truly feel like you know where Harvieu stands as an artist. It’s tricky to compare her to anyone and pigeonhole her – at times, she goes full-on baroque pop with Cruel Disguise, the next minute she’s deep into Yes Please, a jazzy ballad that gorgeously unfurls itself over its five and a half minutes.
There’s a jazzy piano introduction to opening track Strange Things, which is soon embellished with Stodart’s lush string arrangements and occasional guitar riffs. There’s certainly a lot here for Magic Numbers fans to appreciate – there’s the same languid confidence draped over a lot of these tracks, but it’s Harvieu’s voice that lifts them to another level.
For, while she’s not a showy vocalist in the mould of Winehouse, there’s a warmth and vulnerability to Harvieu’s voice that stops Stodart’s strings from overpowering proceedings. At first listen Curves And Swerves is a standard ballad, but the edge in Harvieu’s voice makes you pay more attention to the lyrics, which seem to be about embarking on new relationships after a major injury – “if I take off my clothes in the dark, will you still be laughing…maybe I don’t want to show, what do you think you’re missing”.
There are nods to Regina Spektor on the orchestral ballad Spirit Me Away, while the likes of Nadine Shah seem to be an influence on the standout track Cruel Disguise. At 12 tracks, there’s maybe a bit of filler along the way, but closing track My Body She Is Alive is an uplifting end to the album, celebrating the overcoming of adversity – a fitting end to a record that is, ultimately, a call to arms to not only revel in the drama, but to celebrate it.