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 Chicago

Posted by Chris at November 17, 2005 7:52 AM

Good Morning, Chris! I'll check out the few cuts from this CD today- I have time to both download and listen here in Florida. Thanks for the review-it's one of life's major annoyances that you buy a CD and like a couple songs. Buying CDs versus downloads is always an issue in a household with a professional musician.

And I thought of a sort of esoteric album for you this year, now that you have Mia in your lives. A number of years ago Art Garfunkle, Amy Grant, The Westminster Children's Choir and I think, London Symphony did an album of Jimmy Webb's The Animal's Christmas. This is now out of print but sometimes available thru Amazon, used. Or yours truly could burn you a copy. :-). It is, hands down, at the top of my list of seasonal fare.
So so much more than you would expect or think- and not what you might think. (Glad you liked our lizard. )

Posted by: Vicki at November 17, 2005 8:17 AM

Thanks for the music recommendation! Ill be sure to check that out. :)

Posted by: steph at November 17, 2005 8:23 AM

Interesting sound. For some reason I could only listen on one clip. I will have to check it out more. I wish I had more time to explore music. But for me it is my obsession with reading. So I appreciate a good recommendation when it comes along. So you do not feel alone, I will probably check out that Neil Diamond album too!

Posted by: Michelle at November 17, 2005 8:47 AM

Hmmm... sounds interesting enough to check out. Although as a rule, most female vocalist tend to leave me cold. Kate Bush (she's got a new album out too) might be the exception to the rule. Thanks for this.

Posted by: Nat at November 17, 2005 9:08 AM

dear god, neil diamond?

although, i must admit sweet caroline was apparently my favourite song when i was two. or so my mother tells me.

Posted by: suze at November 17, 2005 9:34 AM

hey... there is nothing wrong with loving the diamond.

Posted by: jodi at November 17, 2005 9:54 AM

Don't forget, imogen heap was on the soundtrack to that new Reese Witherspoon movie.

And she's close personal friends with sarcomical.

Posted by: melati at November 17, 2005 9:57 AM

picked up Green Day's Bullet In A Bible on Tuesday and it's great. Basically a full concert in front of 65,000 people in England and in between songs it shows the band talking about the album, meaning behind songs etc. Highly recommend it!

Posted by: E at November 17, 2005 10:10 AM

I finally bought "American Idiot". It's interesting that Rolling Stone only gave the album 3 and a half stars. IMHO, it's a classic.

Speaking of Cash, his cover of Soundgarden's "Rusty Cage" is sweet.

Posted by: Jason at November 17, 2005 11:22 AM

Have you picked up Fiona Apple's new album? I love it.

Now that's a review!

Posted by: zeno at November 17, 2005 11:27 AM

Thank you so much for the review. I've listened to Hide and Seek over and over for the past month, and I agree with you, the song is amazing. I'm going to the US this weekend so I'm definitely going to look for the album, and I'll get Neil Diamond's too, why not.

Posted by: ava at November 17, 2005 11:36 AM

I want to hear that CD now!

Posted by: Betty at November 17, 2005 11:50 AM

Hmm, this thoughtful review has piqued my interest so when I get home, I'm going to have to download and see if you have any sort of musical taste.

And since I agree on the Neil Young assessment, I think I'll give your taste a fair shake. Will let you know the outcome.

I have to ask though, what is your opinion of Dave Matthews Band?

Posted by: Grace at November 17, 2005 12:22 PM

add me to the "embarassed" list --- am loving the Neil Diamond 12 songs (not my fault, was brainwashed in the back of a Chevrolet Impala)

Posted by: Kathryn at November 17, 2005 6:18 PM

I love 12 Songs from Neil Diamond and I'm not embarassed to admit I downloaded it the day it came out. Ok, maybe a little embarassed....but it's sooo good.

Posted by: Jil at November 17, 2005 6:58 PM

Imogen rocks. I love her first CD, made back before she made it big. I saw her live in a tiny little venue in Cambridge, MA back in the 90's (how is it that makes me sound old?) and she was awesome.

So I just stumbled across your blog, and have something in common with your two most recent posts. Small world.

Posted by: Crista at November 17, 2005 10:38 PM

I needed something new to listen to while I work, thank you for this review, I'm going to give it a shot.

Posted by: Carla at November 19, 2005 5:49 PM


I would love your expert review of Wing's new album of AC/DC covers

Posted by: CroutonBoy at November 21, 2005 4:46 PM