dimanche 7 août 2011

Let's make a scene to Sophie Ellis-Bextor...

Work on Sophie Ellis-Bextor's fourth album started in 2008 when she intended to release a greatest hits package and wanted to record new songs for it. Studio sessions worked so good that she changed her mind and decided to record a full new studio album. Its title's changed from Straight to the heart to Make a scene and there must have been a hundred rumoured song titles appearing on the net to feature on it.
First new recorded songs appeared in 2008 when accoustic, repetitive and boring Dolly Parton's song Jolene was featured on the Beautiful People UK TV series' soundtrack CD and Sophia Loren was used in a Rimmel ad where Sophie appeared. Co-written with Cathy Dennis and produced Chris Rojas, it was said to become Sophie's new single but finally only appeared as a B-Side two years later... Another talked about possible single was a collaboration with Calvin Harris and out-take from his sessions with Roisin Murphy for her Overpowered 2007 album, Off & On, once again co-written with multi-awarded songwriter Cathy Dennis.
But Sophie's first real new release appeared in May 2009 as a featuring on an album track for french DJ/producer Junior Caldera on his first album Debut. Only tracklisted at #13 on the original release, their collaboration got a single release and was repackaged at #5 in the 2010 re-release of the album. But it wasn't her first new single as in June 2009 the UK producers/remixers Freemasons featuring Sophie Ellis-Bextor released their club hit Heartbreak (make me a dancer) which entered the UK charts at #15 and got to #13 the following week. Can't fight this feeling with Junior Caldera got its single release in February 2010 in France where it peaked at #13 and became a club hit but wasn't released in the UK...
Then Sophie's real promotion for her new album started in May 2010 with a new collaboration with the Freemasons, but only credited as co-producers, Bittersweet being fronted by Sophie alone on Fascination/Polydor records. Sophie Loren ended as B-Side to this new single, which may be seen as a double-A single for the fans who were awaiting for its release for so long ! Despite positive critics, Bittersweet entered the UK charts at a very poor #25 placing and I think that is when the Make a scene album project fell down to gutter as Sophie's record company gave up on it. Another DJ collaboration emerged in August 2010 with Armin van Buuren but Not giving up on love wasn't even released in the UK. Sophie Ellis-Bextor had to release her new album Make a scene on her own new found label EBGB, still distributed by Universal, and it first got released in Russia before the UK in June 2011, where it only entered the album charts for one week at a desesperate #33... I don't think it is a bad album but its release was a real mess and only fans must have waited and known its released date ! It is as if noone even cared and the new UK single Starlight even didn't entered the UK charts. Fact is Sophie Ellis-Bextor has completely lost her pop stardom and has gone back down the indie/club route like when she started with The Audience and then Spiller's breakthrough hit Groovejet. She is said to intend to go back to indie/rock recordings and turn her back on pop/dance, and has already started recording sessions for a brand new album, so I guess this one must be the last one I will ever buy from her. Let's share my global positive review for it with you now :

(Sophie Ellis-Bextor / Cathy Dennis / Greg Kurstin) Produced by Greg Kurstin
"Get on the revolution" repeats a vocoderized Sophie on the intro of the first short (2'44!) song of the album and it's a total banger, very upbeat and electronic with a beautiful melodic pre-chorus ("face to face, it's a murder on the dancefloor") that sounds like a tribute to her past (and greatest hit ever) and a fab bridge where she repeats like endlessly "own me, own me, own me" ...No need to ask, I have bought you babe, your CD at least ! Great start but not single potential as it is too repetitive.
(Sophie Ellis-Bextor / Richard Stannard / Hannah Robinson / James Wiltshire / Russell Small)
Produced by Freemasons & Richard 'Biff' Stannard

One of the biggest tune of the album follows and it was her first official single of it. No need to say it but its catchiness and pop perfection is still intact and I still can't get enough of this tune, his classy arrangements and fabulous chorus. I don't understand it hasn't becomed the hit it deserved to be, as it is one of Sophie's best song, very close to Murder on the dancefloor in my ears...
3/ OFF & ON
(Cathy Dennis / Roisin Murphy / Calvin Harris) Produced by Calvin Harris
Off & On starts with very electronic buzzin' sounds but Calvin Harris' one and only production of the album (despite another Calling it love was said to appear...) is another pop/dance anthem and has always been considered like a potential single. Her version is very true to the original Roisin Murphy demo that had leaked a few years ago, but I really like Sophie's vocals a lot more on it than Roisin's. It may become the one after Starlight in some contiental countries at least... The chorus is strong and its melody is simple enough to stay in the head but the buzzin' sound that goes along all through the song is a little annoying to me. It may bring Sophie back in the club charts because of the Calvin Harris stardom but I doubt this could become the pop crossover hit Make a scene needs to sell a little more...
4/ HEARTBREAK (MAKE ME A DANCER) with Freemasons
(Sophie Ellis-Bextor / Richard Stannard / James Wiltshire / Russell Small)
Produced by Freemasons & Richard 'Biff' Stannard

I can paste/copy what I previously said for Bittersweet here for Heartbreak (make me a dancer)... I don't know why, it must be the Freemasons' midas touch that plays on my ears and on my heart : I can't get enough of their disco/house arrangements and they bring out the best of their collaborations with Richard Stannard, who is no newcomer in the Popmusic world, you must know him for sure as he was behind the biggest hits of East 17, Spice Girls, and our beloved Kylie Minogue, to name just a few !
5/ NOT GIVING UP ON LOVE vs Armin van Buuren
(Sophie Ellis-Bextor / Armin van Buuren / Benno de Goeij / Olivia Nervo / Miriam Nervo)
Produced by Armin van Buuren & Benno de Goeij

With the dutch trance DJ on duty for this club anthem, I knew Not giving up on love will not sound like Sophie's usual hits and it is true it is pure trance music behind the brilliant pop song she has written with the Nervo sisters. The chorus is inescapable and it sticks to your brain for the whole day ! I think Sophie's vocals match very well the trance sounds and she could record more of this kind of song if she wanted to recycle herself as club diva for the continental Europe. There seems to always be a market in Germany and neighbour countries for this vocal trance/pop. I like it too, even if I wouldn't listen to this kind of dance alone. Sophie has recorded a beautiful acoustic version of this one and i would have loved to see it be featured on this CD as a bonus track at the end, along the moonlight version of Can't fight this feeling... If a Deluxe version was intended once, I guess these versions would have been perfect, along Sophia Loren and some other unreleased recordedings like Calling it love. But I doubt Make a scene could get a repackaged re-release...
6/ CAN'T FIGHT THIS FEELING with Junior Caldera
(Sophie Ellis-Bextor / Junior Caldera / Julien Carret)
Produced by Junior Caldera & Julien Carret

Can't fight this feeling, whether stripped to the bone or in the original electro/dance mix, is another very catchy song that deserved to be the hit it finally became when it was released as fourth single off Junior Caldera's Debut. The production is intended to make you dance but the song has got a nice aerial instrumental bridge too and it gives even more power to the final chorus when the beats and Sophie's vocals come back. Once more, I can't get enough of this one ! The single was remixed by Junior Caldera, Mischa Daniels or Soulshaker but I think they messed it up a little too much, adding too much electro loops. I'd rather stick to the original version featured here.
(Sophie Ellis-Bextor / Hannah Robinson / Richard X) Produced by Richard X
Starlight, nothing to do with the Supermen Lovers' 2001 hit, is the current single that was intended to make people buy the album I suppose, and I think it was too laid-back for the job. It remembers me of Today the sun's on us and is very melodic, with a strong and beautiful chorus, but I would call it melancholic pop with dance arrangements. Richard X's recent work on Will Young comeback single, Jealousy, is of the same inspiration and you can bet I will buy its parent album Echoes, (entirely produced by Richard X) as soon as it is released. But let's go back to Sophie ; maybe this single would have needed a Freemasons remix to sell it more in the clubs. Their usual sound would have completed the initial production and sound nicely, I feel. Instead, the Carl Hanaghan has just added some beats but has stayed true to the original melancholic spirit of it and was a little bit useless to me...
(Sophie Ellis-Bextor / Hannah Robinson / Liam Howe) Produced by Liam Howe
After this neverending string of singles put one after the other comes the other album tracks and Under your touch is the first of them, and one that is quite addictive as well, for its chorus is catchy enough, even though it is the words "ready for love" that are remembered over "under your touch"... I must admit I didn't have remembrance of Liam Howe who is behind the song and I had to do a little research to find out he already worked with Sophie on the mid-tempo The distance betwen us for her Trip the light fantastic album, not one of the songs I prefered. But he has worked on Marina & The Diamonds, Ellie Goulding and Anita Blay (aka CocknBullKid) too.
(Sophie Ellis-Bextor / Joseph Mount) Produced by Futurecut/Metronomy
Track #9 and it is time for the one that gives its name to the album, and it is a collaboration with Metronomy's leader Joseph Mount, and considering their indie synth/pop label, you would think it is a match made in heaven but I don't like it at all : the sound is phatt with what sounds like electronic trumpets, and jingle gimmick at the end of the repetitive chorus... This track is the one that makes me use the SKIP button for sure !
(Sophie Ellis-Bextor / Hannah Robinson / Richard X) Produced by Richard X
Thankfully, Richard X is back on track for Magic and I am prepared for another slice of dance/pop cheese. It is a rather nice song with chorus line going "I still believe in magic" but it hasn't got what it takes to become a single for me and the way previo
us singles were aligned at the start of the CD makes it difficult now for the following songs to be compared : after the endless time of recording and the number of songs available for inclusion on the album, I was a-waiting for a full hit collection, full of potential singles, and this one is just a good album track, way better than the previous one, but not catchy enough to compare with Bittersweet or Can't fight this feeling. I think Sophie should have put the previous well-known singles in-between the other songs so that the catchiness was better spread on the CD.
(Sophie Ellis-Bextor / Hannah Robinson / Liam Howe) Produced by Liam Howe
Dial my number
is the other Liam Howe co-written & produced song here and it is another electro/pop winner, even stronger than Under your touch ; strong enough indeed that it could become a single I think, and maybe the one who could send Sophie back in the UK Top20 ! It has a über-catchy chorus and very good pre-chorus, here you get to hear very well the background vocals of the co-writer of half the album, Hannah Robinson.
(Sophie Ellis-Bextor / Greg Kurstin / Lindy Robbins) Produced by Greg Kurstin
Greg Kurstin is back for his second production too, this time without usual writing partner Cathy Dennis, but with another, and naturally Sophie. Homewrecker starts with what sounds like a pipe organ but it is just the intro for a messy psyché/techno pop with a chorus sung a la scoobidoobidoo "Ooh Ooh OOhmewrecker" It would have been perfect for an Halloween party but I don't like it that much...
(Ina Wroldsen / Fred Ball) Produced by Fred Ball
Being one of the only two songs that Sophie Ellis-Bextor didn't co-write here, you would guess Synchronised, like Off & On before, would be a must-be single but it is not. But it is a marvellous song with nice harmonizing vocals, penned by Ina Wroldsen, that is often called the sixth member of The Saturdays as she must have co-written nearly all of their hits, with Fred Ball, a norwegian producer who usually works with nordic indie pop star Bertine Zetlitz, and has worked with Suede's leader Brett Anderson after he went solo. Beside Sophie's melancholical vocals, this is a cheerful song and it feels good after the doomy previous one...
(Sophie Ellis-Bextor / Ed Harcourt / Dimitri Tikovoi) Produced by Ed Harcourt & Dimitri Tickovoi
But it is nearly time to part with Make a scene as Cut straight to the heart is the last track of it, and was intended at first as its title too. Like If I can't dance and a couple other tracks of her previous album, this one is a collaboration with Dimitri Tickovoi, a french boy exiled in London, and who have worked with Lio, Guesh Patti, Placebo, and recently ex-Girls Aloud Nicola Roberts on Beat of my drum. The song matches its goal with perfection : it sounds like the ideal funeral for the album, all gloomy and languid, while lyrically, it is a song of a serious love affair that Sophie must dedicate to her husband ; a strange song that wouldn't have fitted anywhere else but at the conclusion of this album.

Now I would have liked to have had Sophia Loren added as a bonus, even though acoustic versions of Not giving up on love, Can't fight this feeling and maybe her cover of Getting away with it would have sounded perfect in transition before the repetitive and fun/poppy with handclaps Rimmel song came back as a last Encore... I have included them all on my digital version of the album for my iPod !
Now I feel a little sad if Make a scene would become Sophie's last pop album because I think it was a misled project, that took too much time to get a release, finally got sold without proper promotion, and with a depressive front-cover and inlay in black & white, that woudl have matched more an indie pop/rock album than an electro/pop one. It seems that all gone were Sophie's glimmering dreams of pop perfection and glitter hits on the dancefloor. She has released this album for her fans that were awaiting for it, but without the fun and attitude a pop record should have. It looks more like the funeral CD of her pop career and like a phoenix she may be born again, but no more like a dance diva I feel... I already miss her !

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