Underrated is a much abused term, but in the case of Siobhan Fahey the evidence is overwhelming. Despite injecting early Bananarama with the gleeful anarchy that made them such arresting, unlikely pop superstars, and despite investing Shakespears Sister with the theatricality and dark-witted mischief that saved them from being Marcella Detroit’s MOR monstrosity (check the later careers of former bandmates for proof), she's never credited as the wayward, maverick pop icon she is. Sadly, it’s doubtful this occasionally brilliant but inconsistent collection of solo recordings will change that.
In one sense, the timing is good. 2009 has been the year of the female pop star, and it’s striking that Lady Gaga shares Fahey's taste for Euro-decadence and unsettling sexuality, while La Roux and Little Boots mine the same seam of angular electro and throbbing disco as she does here. But in a more crucial sense, the timing is all wrong: by assembling songs that have been written at random intervals with different producers over seven years, Songs From the Red Room often sounds dated, and unfashionably late to the party when it should have been first.
Take the grimy electroclash of Bad Blood or the sketchy, techno-tinged Terry Hall duet, Was It Worth It?: intriguing though both are, they sound like Goldfrapp in 2003, albeit Goldfrapp produced wearing oven mitts. And while It’s a Trip’s vivacious reworking of Donna Summer’s I Feel Love sounded fresh in 2004, it’s since been overshadowed by Little Boots’ overwhelming Stuck On Repeat, which performs the same trick better.
What makes all this disappointing is how good the best songs here are. Previous single Pulsatron sounds like Marc Bolan jamming with Debbie Harry and is terrific, scuffed-up fun. The gloomy gothtronica of Cold is even better, a grinding, sucking fusion of synth and guitar which sounds like Depeche Mode at their most introverted. And then there’s You’re Alone, which is nothing less than a slow-burning, pitch-black masterpiece; a swamp of fidgety electronica with Fahey's most sublime melody ever floating forlornly over its surface.
Badly timed and marketed, Songs From the Red Room is inconsistent, haphazard, dark and occasionally touched by pop genius. Rather like Fahey herself, in fact. --Jaime Gill
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