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After the leaps she made on the release of her last breakthrough album Speak For Yourself, British singer-songwriter-producer and two-time Grammy nominee Imogen Heap remained true to her do-it-yourself ethos, building her own studio in the old family home in Essex. Picking up where she left off, Imogen continues to redress the Artist/Audience relationship with Ellipse by enlisting the help of her huge fanbase to write the biography for the new album via Tweets submitted by her 650,000 (and counting!) followers on Twitter, to contribute artwork designs, and by keeping her fans up-to-date on the recording of the new album over 38 vBlogs, all available on her website. Upfront of the new album, Imogen even invited fans to complete an unfinished track "The Song That Never Was", providing the lyrics, with over 500 fans adding backing music for their own versions.
Imogen Heap is probably more famous right now for her online presence than her music. The price on an eBay-listed promo copy of this album was hiked up to £10 million after she encouraged her army of Twitter and MySpace fans to take action, and the singer has the kind of extended Wikipedia entry that is in direct disproportion to her commercial status.
But while brilliant in places, this third solo album by the ex Frou Frou vocalist and multi-instrumentalist will probably do little to change that status: Heap is sure to remain on the fringes of the mainstream, despite an ardent, and obedient, existing fanbase.
It's hard to say whether her appeal to lazy music researchers – octave jumping, understated, wispy vocals and a wordiness that sails a little close to sixth form self-importance, leading to inclusion on soundtracks to The OC as well as a Chronicles of Narnia movie – is a deliberate ploy. But, to be fair, the money undoubtedly earned seems to have been spent on a whole heap (ho ho) of cutting-edge recording gear. Ellipse has a level of production (by Heap herself) that almost obscures the craft beneath, by sheer dint of its excellence.
Heap's an undeniably clever cove, her electronics effortlessly straddling the divide between glitch and gloss. Multi-tracked vocals pulse and jitter, not unlike the faux-choral approach taken in recent years by Sparks. And a song like Little Bird delights with the subtle use of birdsong. The aforementioned voice is tastefully understated: in fact, so much so that it's a relief when her Essex vowels break free on Earth.
Yet too often you feel that this is songwriting that likes to wear a coat of cool over its rather well-educated heart. One suspects that Heap's fanbase isn't destined to be swelled by something so self-knowing and that in years to come her work will be filed next to World Party or Jellyfish in the 'clever yet underrated' file. While promising, it's to be hoped that she has something a little more challenging up her sleeve. --Chris Jones
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Top Customer Reviews
After the wonderful patchy intimacy of 'Speak for Yourself' comes this: 13 exquisitely produced mature pieces of electro-pop.
From the sleeve notes: 'Produced, Engineered, Programmed and everything inbetween by Imogen Heap'. Saying that, she has an impressive array of backing musicians with her, including Nitin Sawhney amongst many others.
Look, it's worth buying the CD - to start with, you're going to get better quality than any download - and the sound quality counts on this album - and secondly, you'll get the lyrics and some striking pics of Imogen Heap in a dark, electric land.
The album opens with the beautiful, rolling 'First Train Home', rippling synth and syncopated lyrics - 'first train home, I've got to get on it, first train home, I've got to get on it': she wants to get on getting on, and the music rolls on.
'Wait It Out' starts strong - yes, it's the end of the affair, but she can just sit it out - but then it collapses into sad and simple intimacy: 'And sit here, Just going to wait it out, And sit here cold, Just going to sweat it out, Wait it out.'
'Earth' - wonderful a cappella, multi-tracked playfulness, not putting up with it anymore: 'Stop this right away, Put that down and clean this mess up, End of conversation, Put your back into it and make it up to me now'.
'Little Bird' almost reminded me of Alison Moyet's 'Only You' but multi-tracked vocals.Read more ›
So on to Ellipse which I've heard now countless times and feel able to review. It's easy to get swept up in her charm and down-to-earth approach. And there's nothing wrong with that. And clearly this album has been lapped up with gusto by her ever growing and adoring fan-base. But if you strip the adulation and anticipation away and stand back to view how this album stacks up against other Heap output the cracks do quickly appear.
Don't get me wrong, there is a lot of material here that works, and works well. 'First Train Home' belys the several year gap since 'Speak' and continues the Immi "sound" without missing a beat. Catchy, oh so well sung without being overstated. But why the strange acapella bridge after a couple of mins out of context with any other aspect of the track? Quirkiness is great, but so is groove and vibe and this section is so disposable I feel like digitally excising it.
'Bad Body Double' must surely be the next single. The physical frailties of a 30-something Essex girl do not sound like promising "great track" material but that's Immi's charm. And talking of frailty and charm, the closing track 'Half Life' exposes these traits blissfully. "Twee" should not work like this, but it does.
Why have I suddenly thrown the word "twee" into the mix? Because it's a word I found coming to the surface far too often when listening to the album. 'Little Bird', 'Between the Sheets', 'Aha' are prime culprits.Read more ›
Set against the better material, it is fair to say that the balance of the record various from the pointless ("The fire") through to the truly dreadful such as "Bad body double." Some of the music here is so bad that I think a more mature artist would have had second thoughts about releasing the material. I would have preferred a shorter record with fewer tracks and perhaps more opportunity for imrpovisation. In many respects, this record isn't quite as radical and risk-taking as it could be. For me, the production values and utilising of technology make the biggest impression and whilst I would applaud Imogen Heap for looking beyond the narrow confines of pop for inspiration, if you have a small voice and have concentrated upon electronica to squeeze the life out of your music, the musical ideas have to be strong and work for the record to stand on it's two feet.Read more ›
Most Recent Customer Reviews
Only just found Imogen Heap by walking into HMV and asking what the music was that was coming through their speakers, her sound is different to what I usually listen to (heavy... Read morePublished 14 months ago by paul thompson
My introduction to 'Immi' was 'Sparks' so I had to work backwards. I love 'Sparks' but, as a complete album, this is better. 'Earth' is just something else.Published 16 months ago by unforgivable74