November 17, 2005
Speaking For Myself...
When I start writing about a piece of music, I feel as though I have to take a step back and explain where I'm coming from. So, before I talk about Imogen Heap's Speak For Yourself, I've got to tell you, I love good vocal work. I enjoy strong vocalists and excellent vocal harmonies. I think it's a shame when good vocalists make bad music and, conversely, when good music is lost on piss-poor vocalists. Don't get me wrong - a vocalist doesn't have to be classically trained with a vibrato that goes on for miles. All I care about is sincerity. Ben Folds, for instance? Not a good voice. But he's such a great, heartfelt vocalist you can't help but like him. Simon and Garfunkel have rather plain voices independent of one another but put them together and you get something that is majestic and enduring. Their modern counterparts, Kings of Convenience, carry on that tradition. Neil Young has a unique, and some might say awful, voice but add Crosby, Stills and Nash and you've got something. Hell, say what you want about bands like Styx or Yes or any of the other old-school arena rock acts but they had some wicked-strong vocalists.
Imogen Heap's Speak For Yourself has been generating a lot of buzz since two of its tracks hit iTunes a few months back, one on one of the many O.C. soundtracks (Goodnight and Go) and the other as a single with accompanying video (Hide and Seek). I immediately fell in love with Hide and Seek because of its uniqueness and eagerly awaited the release of the full album. Not surprisingly, I picked it up the moment it hit shelves.
The album starts off with Headlock, a song that's almost more 80's sounding than any actual 80's music I own. And while that could be cringe-inducing, it somehow works, especially surrounded by swirling vocals and complex vocal interplay all generated by Heap herself. The previously-released Goodnight and Go is fine, nothing special, and a bit too juvenile for me considering her stature and musical experience but Have You Got It In You, which follows, is its polar opposite. Mature, driven by ambient sound, droning synth and, above all, that complex vocal interaction, it continues to astonish eventually transforming into something with a more plodding, driving beat. This tension is immediately diffused by Loose Ends, another homage to 80's pop. Unfortunately, the almost cheesy beats and synths don't work as well here. Perfect vocal arrangements mark Clear The Area, while a harder edge marks Daylight Robbery and The Walk. Just For Now provides another showcase for Heap's incredible vocal arrangements as does I Am In Love With You. Unfortunately, while the song moves, it doesn't seem to have any sort of destination in mind. Closing In shows off Heap's piano prowess and provides the perfect setup for the album's closer, the majestic The Moment I Said It.
Hide and Seek, nestled in the album's middle, remains the genius track on the album. Anyone expecting anything better from Speak For Yourself will be disappointed. The Moment I Said It comes close, by Hide and Seek remains Heap's best work here.
All-in-all, Heap is a vocalist's vocalist. Musically, if someone told me she was the bastard child of Kate Bush and Peter Gabriel, I wouldn't be at all shocked. She's brilliant, doing things that no other artist has really done before. Her production is lush, and her vocals are astounding. The album is like an unbelievably expensive deep-pile carpet - it's layered, plush, and easy to relax and sink in to.
While I'm on the topic of music, I have something embarrassing to admit - I've listened to Neil Diamond's latest, 12 Songs, and I think it's absolutely brilliant. Producer Rick Rubin has managed to repeat his success with Johnny Cash and produce an album that showcases the brilliance and sincerity of the artist. I can't believe I'm saying this but here I sit, recommending a Neil Diamond album.
Also out, Green Day's Bullet In A Bible, a live CD and DVD of their highly successful American Idiot tour. Madonna's Confessions on a Dance Floor isn't my kinda thing but that hit shelves too. Peter Gabriel's Growing Up Tour was captured yet again on DVD in the form of Still Growing Up: Live and Unwrapped as was U2's latest tour on Vertigo 2005: Live In ChicagoPosted by Chris at November 17, 2005 7:52 AM