Imogen Heap is hands-down my favorite solo artist.
Frou Frou is my favorite band.
That being said, I’m going to attempt an objective review of Heap’s latest album, “Ellipse.”
“Ellipse” is just enough like “Speak For Yourself” and just different enough from “Speak For Yourself” to make it both typically amazing Heap and distinguish itself as a new, great sound. It seems like Heap was more able to experiment and stretch her recording/sound engineering wings on “Ellipse,” rather than working on proving herself, as she did on “Speak For Yourself.”
I’d like to be able to pinpoint an ongoing theme with “Ellipse,” but that’s the great thing about Heap: Every song is about something different. And that is what makes her work brilliant.
Anyone who has spent more than five minutes with me knows I have ADD like whoa. Listening to an album with songs about the same things over and over is nearly impossible for me. “Ellipse” completely holds my attention, which is saying something.
That being said, there is an undertone throughout parts of “Ellipse” that give off the impression of loneliness and unhappiness. (“Everybody says that time heals everything./But what of the wretched hollow?/The endless in-between?/Are we just going to wait it out?” from “Wait It Out” and “The cold shoulder/Folded arms and looking up/You’ve never listened/And carry on careless, regardless” from “Earth.”)
But unless you’re really paying attention, you don’t notice the negativity. Heap has mastered the technique of veiled unpleasantness. “Goodnight And Go” is a perfect example: Girl wants boy, girl can’t have boy all set to cheery popish beats. The fact that the girl in the song follows him home and watches him undress is completely missed by how up-beat the song sounds.
Speaking of songs on “Speak For Yourself,” Heap did not try to duplicate her previous sound too much. There is no repeat of “Hide And Seek.” (You shouldn’t mess with perfection.) There is no stand-out single on “Ellipse” like “Goodnight And Go” was for “Speak For Yourself.” — and that’s a good thing. Wading through the complexities of “Ellipse” to find the first single (“First Train Home”) had to be difficult.
If you haven’t yet, check out Heap’s vBlogs. She chronicled the making of the entire album on Youtube. It was really neat to hear her talk about the motivation and process behind each song and she kept her fans updated on the album and her life. And I might be alone in this, but when I listen to “Ellipse,” I try to find the sounds she talks about recording in each song. It’s kind of like going on a sonic scavenger hunt.
And now, a review of each song:
“First Train Home:”
“Bodies disengaged, our mouths are fleshing over./It’s just an echo game, irises retreating to ovals of white.”
Honestly, when I heard the first few lines of this song, I thought it was about dying. Then I actually listened to it.
This song is beautiful. I don’t mean just the lyrics, but also the music itself. I can forgive her for taking four years to put out “Ellipse” if it took that long to produce songs of this caliber.
Though I swear when I first heard this song, I heard the line “So what? You’ve got a silly hard on.” I’ve since learned I was very incorrect, but I like to think my version made the next line (“So what?/I didn’t want to come here anyway”) waaay more meaningful.
Also, the lines “So what? You’ve had one too many?/ So what? I’m not that fun to be with/ So what?” basically sum up my view of partying nowadays.
But perhaps that’s just because I’m getting old. (Hey you damn kids, get off my lawn!)
“Wait It Out:”
I can’t pick my favorite lyrics from this song. But I can try:
“Clambering for the scraps/In the shatter of us collapsed./It cuts me with every could-have-been” probably comes close, but this song is just too good to chose favorites. This really is more of a poem than a song, to be honest.
It’s a classic breakup song without being a cliché breakup song, which is refreshing.
Wait. I changed my mind. Here are my favorite lyrics: “Pain on pain on play, repeating/With the backup makeshift life in waiting.”
No, wait. This is my favorite, no take-backs: “Are we just going to wait it out?/And sit here cold?/Look, you’ll be long gone by then. /And lackluster in dust we lay /’round old magazines. /Fluorescent lighting sets the scene/For all we could and should being /In the one life that we’ve got.”
OK, I can’t decide. I just know I love this song.
Remember that master-of-veiled-unpleasantness thing about which I wrote? This song is the perfect example. You barely realize she’s talking about hating someone beneath the upbeat music and talk of Legos. (Yes, Legos.)
“Put that down and clean this mess up/End of conversation/Put your back in it and/Make it up to me now” are my favorite lines because of the wonderful double-entendre there at the end. (I studied psychology; I can find sex in “Sesame Street.”)
I also love this song because the lines between yelling at people for the way they treat the environment and yelling at an immature boyfriend are so blurred. And as odd as it sounds, Heap makes that work.
As much as I hate to say this, this is probably my least favorite on “Ellipse.” Probably because it reminds me of my parents/their house/their neighborhood.
“Little bird, little bird, little bird/What do you see?/A picture perfect scene/Two-toned lawns are manicured/The gardens wearing haute couture” perfectly capture the neighborhood in north Oklahoma City/Edmond where I grew up. My friends called it the “Sitcom neighborhood” because of how perfect it all was: The lawns were perfectly cut, people were always out walking their dogs and kids were always out playing.
But, like in the song, (“Little bird, little bird, little bird/Where are they now?/Daytime TV lounge/A carriage clock, a mantle piece/A family wiped up, j-cloth cleaned/Unsaid, festers in the throws of the sofa”), everything isn’t as it seems when you go inside those uniform red brick houses. In fact, it’s usually pretty fucked up.
This song is what happened when the boy in “Goodnight And Go” finally goes on a date with the girl. That or the girl breaks and kidnaps the boy. I’m still working on which one it is.
“Stuck in a cinema or saving me from a car/You’ll suddenly realize and fall into my arms/Working you undercover, softly slowly got ya/Any moment now you’re gonna swoon into my arms.” Who hasn’t had a moment when they’ve imagined something like that?
Heap eventually gives up the double-entendres and goes for it with “The same you, the same me/Spoon feeding the ground dark soil/A friend too good to go there with./(Shake it up and get it on.)” I’m all for the edginess.
“Before electric light,/You paddled through the soup of darkness as a crocodile,/Cherry picking in the river,/I would leave crisp note footprints at the Bankside.”
I am too sober for this.
Oh. Wait. I get it now: “Do it for England/Do it for love/Do it for us/Do it for goodness sake/Do it for all the times/We wished we had” “Do what you want, just how you like/Nobody has to know.”
Ah. Yeah. Got it.
“You and me between the sheets
It just doesn’t get better than this
The many windswept yellow stickies of my mind
Are the molten emotional front line
I couldn’t care less I’m transfixed in this absolute bliss
Sweet sleepless, tumbling night
Oh, and the morning on the your skin and loved up light
Tracing patterns in the maze of your back
Softly, softly the goose bumps like that
And then a kiss…
And another one…”
That’s the whole song. I don’t need psychology for this one.
Fact: I’m a total nerd who love science. “First the Earth was flat/But it fattened up when we didn’t fall off/Now we spin laps around the Sun/Oh the gods lost 2-1/The host of Heaven pointed out to us from lightyears away/We’re surrounded by a billion galaxies” totally caters to that and I love it.
“Bad Body Double:”
This is probably my favorite song on “Ellipse.” It’s great to know that someone as fabulous as Imogen Heap feels insecure sometimes. It makes her more human.
“We look very similar except she’s got some greys and/A little extra weight on the sides/And dimply thighs/I hear that stuff’s a bitch to get rid of.”
We’re all skinny bitches on the inside.
I absolutely love this song. It’s about hypocrites being caught in the act.
“Golden boy boots/Pocket pedestal/Picking shots at my moves/Plastic, tin can, paper, separated/Busy bee wave, wave ‘save the planet’ flag/But sneaky in suburbia” “Aha! candid camera!/Hook, line and sinker/For the four-wheel drive/Cost you to keep me quiet!”
It’s like that time John McCain acted like he was interested in saving the planet and then we found out he has like five houses and seven cars. Oops.
It’s an instrumental with fire sounds. (Snap, crackle, pop, y’all.)
After the gorgeous intro, you’ll find another breakup song. But it’s not a sad one. It explains to the incredulous dumpee why he was dumped:
“Hijacked lost track light fades another day left/Long shadows lure you in/The more you look the less you see /So close your eyes and start to breathe/Oh, suit yourself, this wasn’t easy/Mm, suit yourself this wasn’t easy” “Oh, I just can’t find the strength to pull you up and keep you taut/No, I just can’t find the strength to hold you up and keep you taut.”
Ah. Here’s the deeply sad my-heart-has-been-broken song:
“The stickler is you’ve played not one beat wrong/You never promised me anything/Even sat me down and warned me just how they fall/I knew the odds were I’d never win/Yet here I am.”
As oft-done as this theme is, “Half Life” does it justice without being sappy or cliché.
“My self-worth measured in text back tempo/It’s been two days and 8 minutes too slow/Well there may well be others but I still like to pretend/That I’m the one you really want to grow old with.” Girls, don’t pretend you’ve never thought that.
“Half Life” is fittingly morose and quiet as it chronicles the end of a relationship. It’s also the appropriate end to this fantastic album.