Sunday, 23 August 2009

Review: Imogen Heap, "Ellipse" (2009)

On her third album, Imogen Heap has taken all the aspects of her musical personality-- the soul-baring singer-songwriter on her debut, I Megaphone; the multifaceted, multi-talented producer and artist of her "Hide and Seek"-spawning second album, Speak for Yourself; and as one half of the group Frou Frou, along with Guy Sigsworth-- put them in a blender, and flicked the On switch.

The result is Ellipse-- and, yet, as one makes such a statement, Ellipse is simultaneously something so singular, so musically engaging, that it is, quite simply, its own musical being.


The album opens with the driving "First Train Home", also its lead single, where there's the urgent desire to leave a party you've grown weary of, and ends with "Half Life", a beautiful piano-centered track where Heap, surrounded by chatter, sings "I knew that I'd get like this again/that's why I try to keep at bay".

Ellipse sparkles with these lyrical connections; of particular note is the link between "Wait it Out" and "Earth", which seems to question a relationship between two people in the former track and, not finding any answers, tackles the relationship between Mother Nature and humanity on "Earth", written (quite likely) from the perspective of the planet itself, trying to find an example to go on.

"Earth" is one of the highlights on the album for this reason, along with the highly original take on one's feelings towards their own imperfections in "Bad Body Double" and the stunning "Canvas", whose accompanying video, once seen, expands upon the song's already-rich visual imagery.

The video for "Canvas", which is not a single, raises the hope that more videos of non-single tracks from the album will be made. Personally, I'd find a video of "Bad Body Double" particularly fascinating, given the narrative possibilities evident in the song itself.

Musically and lyrically, the album is excellent; one only needs to listen to "Tidal", with its racing melody and relentless beat, for this to be evident. There is the occasional slip-up: "2-1"'s epic imagery is stalled momentarily by the frankness of its opening lines, and it seems Heap sings "I swear I'll let it rip" on "Little Bird", but other than that, the album's lyrics are the best of her career.

With any luck, Heap will have a few more Grammy nominations (and, with any luck, a win) to add to her already impressive list of credentials come January 2010. But, even if Ellipse ends up somehow short on the awards front, its creator-- and any listener-- can take immense comfort in the fact that Heap has produced what isn't quite as immediately arresting as "Hide and Seek", but is a mature, thoughtful, accomplished work that, like a fine wine, gets better and better on each listen.

It's a remarkable achievement.

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