Release Date: Jan 20, 2014
Record label: EBGB's
Genre(s): Pop, Pop/Rock
There was once a time when Sophie Ellis-Bextor was one of the biggest commercial pop stars in the UK. After featuring on Spiller’s number one summer smash “Groovejet (If this Ain’t Love)”, which was named the most played song of the last decade in the UK, Sophie’s debut album Read My Lips reached number two and eventually went double platinum for sales of over 600,000 copies in the UK. The album also produced two further top two singles, “Take Me Home” (a cover of the Cher song) and “Murder on the Dancefloor”.
Always a dedicated follower of fashion, twisting and turning her music to fit the times, Sophie Ellis-Bextor takes an accurate gauge of the styles of 2014 on Wanderlust. Swinging away from the electro-pop that defined the earliest days of her solo career, Ellis-Bextor opts for an exercise in handsome retro glamour here, a move perhaps partially inspired by Lana Del Rey, the Californian queen who has a virtual patent on neo-Hollywood glamour, but Ellis-Bextor retains a European sensibility, spending as much time with big ballads and cabaret as she does with doomed soundscapes. More importantly, she's enlisted Ed Harcourt as her collaborator for Wanderlust, and he gives these songs a glam grandiosity that is explicitly theatrical yet rarely excessive.
Even before her last album, 2011's Make a Scene, Sophie Ellis-Bextor had intimated that she felt constrained by "the dance stuff", and with Wanderlust she's taken a do-or-die step away from it. Produced by Ed Harcourt – hence the preponderance of sweeping string-and-piano arrangements – this set of minor-chord melancholia often sounds like the product of another artist entirely. The Russian typography on the sleeve is in keeping with the wintry drama within – and dramatic it is.
Fresh off the Strictly Come Dancing supertanker, Sophie Ellis-Bextor – she of the razor sharp voice and even sharper cheekbones – releases her fifth studio album, Wanderlust, and it’s a very, very different beast to its predecessor, 2011 effort Make A Scene. The cut-glass RP tones survive, but not much else does: Wanderlust sees English pop’s premier disco-diva completely shedding Make A Scene’s bouncy electropop – which featured writing and production from the likes of Calvin Harris, Metronomy frontman Joseph Mount and Australian dance act Nervo – and going for something a bit more Radio 2 than Capital FM. It’s clear right from the off that Wanderlust, co-written and produced by Ed Harcourt, is Ellis-Bextor striking out in a different direction.
Ellis-Bextor, 17 years a pop star and now a 34-year-old mother of three, sounds like a nine-year-old girl on this, her very fey fifth album. Producer Ed Harcourt has met her mannered delivery and plummy English vowels with string-soaked arrangements but they're more saccharine than stirring, particularly when set against choruses such as: "Girl's got to have a little day dream" on the pastel-coloured Runaway Daydreamer. There's an uncomfortably quaint waltz in Love is a Camera and Interlude ends up sounding like a Mary Poppins pastiche: it's all too easy to picture Ellis-Bextor floating skyward, umbrella in hand, singing "It's clearly plain to see/The sun is breaking through the clouds." .
What is it with the word ‘Wanderlust’ lately? Polly Scattergood’s got it, Wild Beasts too, and now pop force Sophie Ellis-Bextor has caught the fever. Indeed, she’s wandered quite some distance from her dance-speckled past. At the beginning of the process, Ellis-Bextor was quite candid about a change of direction (an idea made quite real, likely in no small thanks to Ed Harcourt, who produced it).