Sophie Ellis-Bextor – Make A Scene

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There’s a bit of AutoTune-style processing on the beginning of Revolution – just for four bars or so – before Sophie dispenses with such shenanigans and lets her distinctive, slightly hoarse voice shine through. We get the point: she knows what’s going on in the charts. She just doesn’t much care.

Ten years ago, I sent a note of resignation to the metal magazine I was writing for, explaining that the best albums I’d heard all year were by Kylie and Sophie Ellis-Bextor, and that my interests lay elsewhere than limp goth and grindcore. I’d heard Read My Lips and frankly it was embarrassing the stuff I’d been sent to review.

A decade on, and Sophie’s vocals are sauntering over an insistent dancefloor groove that would make Britney blush and steps neatly up to Lady Gaga, whips the scrunchie out of her hair, Heathers-style, and tells her there’s a new sheriff in town.

That’s just the first track.

Bittersweet continues the momentum: 80s-style electro-pop of the finest calibre. The songwriting is outstanding: it’s like The Human League’s greatest hits in one song. The first four tracks on this are obvious singles – Heartbreak (Make Me A Dancer) is one, at least – which is more than most pop albums achieve in their entirety. Then again, Read My Lips had only one or two weak moments.

Make A Scene is on first impression, like Gaga’s The Fame, fairly front-loaded. It’s a strategy that works: most of us listen to music on our MP3 players on short journeys that are normally over before you’ve heard the whole album anyway, and if you do stray past the stronger tracks you’re so enamoured with the early songs that you’ll forgive it anything. Personally, it’s annoying – I’d rather albums had fewer tracks and cut out the dross – but rather that than buying an album and the only good song’s the single.

I’m not going to say anything clever and knowledgeable about guests Freemasons, Armin van Buuren or Junior Caldera, since I don’t have a clue who they are, but the Freemasons songs at least are superb. They lend some of the musical adventurousness that made Read My Lips such a pleasure, though overall Make A Scene is much less eclectic and ambitious. The van Buuren and Caldera tracks are disappointingly weak compared to the rest of it – the latter in particular a vague echo of the storming early tracks. By the time Under Your Touch kicks in, I’m starting to wonder if the album is going to recover at all, but sure enough here is the sub-bass compelling my spine to wobble in an involuntary chair dance.

Perversely, the title track sits completely at odds to the rest of the album. A jittery rhythm puts me more in mind of the last Radiohead album before the song proper makes its scene: a deeply unusual jazzy groove that’s difficult to place or describe. I like it, but it’s startling. That ‘ambition’ I felt the album was lacking. It then continues with the charming Magic. Which begs the question of why the hell she threw three such crappy tracks in the middle if she still had this up her sleeve!

When you rip Make A Scene to your MP3 player, just delete tracks five, six and seven: it then stands proudly alongside Madonna’s Ray Of Light and Gaga’s Monster. As good as pop gets, in other words.

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