After four albums of enjoyably poised if not especially permanent pop, this quite remarkable record came out of nowhere. In the summer of 2013, I became aware of a demo version of ‘Young Blood’ that had been posted as free download on Sophie Ellis-Bextor‘s site and was immediately hooked. This subtle, shimmering ballad gave her voice room to move and, accompanied by little more than brushed drums and some stirringly emotive piano, it set the scene for a record that was going to highlight a talent in the ascendancy. I got hold of a promo by the end of October last year and listened to very little else for the best part of a month. To that end, it felt odd not to be including it in last year’s list. However, its appeal has endured and there is much to enjoy here. Sometimes, you just need the right spark, the perfect collaborator, to unleash something rather special. ‘Wanderlust’ is co-written, produced and arranged by the never less than splendid Ed Harcourt; his grizzled indie-pop chops are all over these songs. This alchemical partnership has delivered an album that deserves a huge audience and couldn’t be further from awkward pop transitions of the past – ‘Some Kind Of Bliss’, I’m looking right at you.
Bedecked with a bewitchingly gothic hue, these eleven pieces are grand and ambitious. Ellis-Bextor has never been in finer voice, soaring across the glistening ‘Birth Of An Empire’ and a measure in restraint on the aforementioned ‘Young Blood’. There are some sparkling bursts of vintage pop to be found in the sweeping ‘Runaway Daydreamer’ and the waltzing ‘Love Is A Camera’. However, it is when a little of her co-writer’s Waitsian ways pop up on the tumultuous ‘Cry To The Beat Of The Band’ that this album’s pedigree is fully asserted, thundering drums setting the pace as the drama swirls all around. It is a fabulously baroque tune, in possession of a killer chorus and a hauntingly spaced out middle eight. It’s a song that I could have told you would be on my end of year compilation for 2014 on January 1st. And so it has proved. The album closes with ‘When The Storm Has Blown Over’, a track which summons memories of the wonderful, and sadly only, A Girl Called Eddy album that Richard Hawley produced ten years ago. It serves as a fittingly calm conclusion after the wild ambition of the ten songs preceding it and leaves you with time to consider just how much you’d like to hear the whole record over again.
I have to confess to being a little puzzled by this record’s absence from most end of year lists, although having come out in January probably hasn’t helped. That said, even when it first appeared it felt a little bit like reviewers had decided what they were going to say before they’d actually lived with the album. Pop a different name on the front, a name that hadn’t been associated with Strictly Come Dancing just prior to release, and I can’t help thinking it would have been hailed as one of the finer singer/songwriter albums of recent times. Of course, add in especially thoughtful and insightful analysis from people like the senior rock critic at the Daily Telegraph – “It’s not just that she looks absolutely extraordinary (she is tall and thin, with elfin, doll-like features that have helped facilitate a modelling sideline). She appears lovely, charming, smart and fun.” – and it’s not hard to see why fewer people than should have took it seriously. Such asinine writing belittles what is a sincerely beautiful record and, arguably, a career highlight for both artists involved. Don’t let ‘Wanderlust’ pass you by.