Image © Megaphonic Records 2005
Image © Vicky Dawe 2005
More Imogen Heap:
Frou Frou Details Review (2002)
(24 July 2005) Imogen Heap has released what happens to be my favorite album so far this year--Speak for Yourself (Megaphonic Records (UK) 2005). As the frontwoman for electro-pop duo Frou Frou--in conjunction with programmer and producer Guy Sigsworth, who also worked with Bjork, Madonna and Seal--Imogen won over fans and critics with her distinctive vocal style. While her voice is often compared to vocalists Sarah McLachlan, Dido, and Jem, Imogen has a particular vocal range and beauty that is all her own.
The first single from Frou Frou's debut album Details (review) was the retro-gem "Breathe In." Although discriminating listeners became instantly obssessed with Frou Frou's glorious sound, it was not until the song "Let Go" was used in ad spots for Zach Braff's film Garden State that people took real notice. Eventually, "Let Go" was featured on the Garden State soundtrack, and the soundtrack itself garnered a Grammy award. The creative team behind the film Shrek 2 were sufficiently impressed with Frou Frou that Imogen and Guy were asked to contribute to that film's soundtrack. In response, the dynamic duo recorded a brilliant cover of the 80s apocalyptic classic "Holding Out for a Hero" by Bonnie Tyler.
Although Imogen and Guy have not officially abandoned their joint music project, both decided to take some time off from Frou Frou to work on side projects. Imogen went to work writing and recording Speak for Yourself on her own computer in her small apartment studio. Frou Frou fans waited patiently to see what would emerge. Before teaming up for the Frou Frou project, Imogen had released a solo album in 1998 entitled I Megaphone. A more tempermental (though meritorious) affair by far, I Megaphone steered closer in style to Alanis Morrissette and Tori Amos. Would Imogen return to her more aggressive and moody roots, or build upon the more accessible and warm sound created by Frou Frou?
Happily, the answer is that Imogen has created an album that retains Frou Frou's upbeat vibe, but showcases a somewhat more intense and personal quality as well. In any case, Speak for Yourself is a near-flawless collection of thirteen phenomenal tracks. From the crazy sine-wave/chime synth intro of the jaunty opener "Headlock," it becomes apparent that Imogen has outdone herself. With exultating percussion and driving synth orchestration, "Headlock" is pure summer euphoria. Imogen layers her fabulous voice in shimmering harmonies as the song propels listeners on an energetic wave.
"Goodnight and Go," which was featured on the television show, The O.C. is equally enjoyable. Here, Imogen smartly utilizes the talents of her friend, guitarist and singer Jeff Beck,to the fullest. With a wicked break-beat and Jeff's rifting, Imogen sings tongue-in-cheekily about spying on a love interest. The clever chorus lyrics "Why'd ya have to be so cute? It's impossible to ignore you. Must you make me laugh so much? It's bad enough we get along so well" perfectly fit the breezy, sweet instrumentation. Its particularly engaging to hear Imogen pull her Sinead O'Connor-like passagio wails throughout.
Another superb track is "Loose Ends." Hard synths and broken drum kicks are accentuated by Imogen's meditation on disolving a relationship. Again, Imogen uses her vocal range and angelic/throaty singing to perfect effect.
The goose-bump-inducing epic "Hide and Seek" will remain with you long after the song ends. This track, in particular, shines a great light on Imogen's undisputed talent as a singer and songwriter. There is something tremendously moving and heartrending about this hymn-like acappela/vocal-treated wonder. Already a favorite on iTunes--and featured on The O.C.--"Hide and Seek" has struck a deep chord with listeners. Imogen uses a vocal/pedal affect on her voice creating a disembodied, but strangely comforting effect. The arresting chord changes and ebb-and-flow style of the song truly invest the song with an originality and luminosity that is rare in music.
"Clear the Area" shares some similarities with Frou Frou's "Hear me Out." In whimsical fashion, the song begins with a forlorn wind effect and minor chord piano. This mood is shaken by the injection of a trip-hoppy beat, guitars and Imogen's vocal refrains.
"The Walk" is probably the highlight on the album. Songs just don't get more perfect than this. With urgent, near-whispered quietude, Imogen creates a sense of desperate ruination of a relationship. But, ever-original, Ms. Heap suddenly about-faces with a ripping drumbeat, orchestral pizzicato drops and synth strikes. Hearing her vaulting voice sing "It's not meant to be like this ... it's not what I planned at all ... I don't want to feel like this" Imogen instantly recreates the feelings of conflict and loss associated with dying love. Look for the incredible piano and vocal work during the last minute of the album.
"The Moment I Said It" also deserves mention for its sublime rumination on loneliness. Both ethereal and poignant, Imogen's piano work create's a cinematic, visionary setting for her pleading voice.
Possibly the best compliment I can make is to say that Speak for Yourself is as good an album (if not better) than Frou Frou's Details. Given the fact that I thought Details was the the best album of 2002, this is indeed high praise. With the release of Speak for Yourself, Imogen has proven that she has become a master at her craft.
Perfectly balancing introspection and gregariousness, intimacy and accessibility, joy and melancholy, Imogen has created a true pop classic.--Justin Elswick in Provo, Utah