Category Archives: Progressive/Electronic

Pink Floyd – Animals – Classic Music Review

My fourth Pink Floyd review fulfills an implied commitment I made in my less-than-impressed review of Dark Side of the Moon: “I gave Wish You Were Here a very positive review and will probably do the same for Animals if I ever get around to reviewing it.”

Five years and nine months later, here we are.

While I might go back and edit that review for tone someday, I still find Dark Side of the Moon a bore. Wish You Were Here remains my favorite, and I’ll always have a soft spot for Piper at the Gates of Dawn. I haven’t explored the period beginning with David Gilmour’s entry up to Dark Side of the Moon in any depth, but I’m intrigued by their musical development and the collaborative nature of the band during those formative years.

It may sound odd to bring up collaboration while preparing to review the album that some believe was the crucial moment in Floyd history when Roger Waters launched his almost-bloodless coup and took over the band. Although I hate getting into rock star soap operas, I’ll just say that Roger Waters wrote most of the music because David Gilmour was caring for his newborn daughter and that Pink Floyd’s main strength—musical collaboration—is demonstrably alive and well on Animals. Gilmour may have shown up late to the party, but his presence is undeniable and his contributions beyond noteworthy. The efforts of Richard Wright and Nick Mason demonstrate that their heads were still very much in the game.

If Mr. Waters developed any nefarious motives following that serendipitous opportunity, they would have been exposed on The Wall . . . which I intend to review in less than five years and nine month’s time.

*****

When you read reviews or commentary on Animals, somewhere in the narrative you’ll find a reference to George Orwell’s Animal Farm, some going so far to claim that the album is “loosely-based” on the popular Orwellian work. Even Roger Waters tried to peddle this nonsense in a lame and unnecessary attempt to give his work literary cred.

The only thing Animals has in common with Animal Farm is the use of anthropomorphism involving animals. By the same token, you could say that Animals is loosely-based on the work of Aesop, La Fontaine, Lewis Carroll, Rudyard Kipling or C. S. Lewis. The cows, horses, goats, hens and cats that populated Orwell’s work do not make even cameo appearances on Animals. Animal Farm is a satiric critique of the dynamics behind totalitarianism as manifested in the Soviet Union and now feels somewhat dated; Animals is a study of the impact of capitalism as manifested in the two centuries following the Industrial Revolution and the new social strata that emerged as a result of that tectonic change. At present, Pink Floyd’s opus is the far more relevant work, as the communism-that-wasn’t-even-communism is dead, while the excesses of unfettered capitalism continue to divide society and inflict massive damage on the planet.

Other than the human observer who appears briefly at the beginning and end of the work, Waters gave us only three animals to work with: pigs, dogs and sheep. The pigs are the people at the top, the obscenely wealthy or high-born who control the works and maintain power by feeding bullshit to the dogs and fear to the sheep. The nature of the dogs is captured in the phrase “It’s a dog-eat-dog world.” They have been manipulated by the pigs to believe in the virtues of competitive behavior and are tossed a bone or two as a reward for their pointless pursuit of ephemeral riches and empty status symbols. The sheep are the lambs led to the slaughter who have been narcotized by the pigs through a combination of an educational system that reinforces obedience while discouraging curiosity, and a religion that renders them fearful and meek (though they’re told they will eventually inherit the earth). In accordance with the inherent sadomasochism of a hierarchy, the dogs get to take their frustrations out on the sheep, who fear and loathe them.

In an absolutely brilliant thematic move, the stories of the animals are bookended by an acoustic song in two parts embracing the repeatedly honored rock theme of relationship-as-refuge. “Pigs on the Wing (Part One)” places the entire work in that context by emphasizing the importance of mutual caring as a form of healing, resilience and defense against the mad world we’re about to explore:

If you didn’t care what happened to me,
and i didn’t care for you,
we would zig zag our way through the boredom and pain,
occasionally glancing up through the rain
wondering which of the buggers to blame
and watching for pigs on the wing

That beautiful example of poetic economy remains ultra-relevant forty-some-odd years later. Between Trump and Brexit, there are plenty of buggers to blame, but due to pig-designed defects in our allegedly democratic processes, the average person can’t do much to change things. Ergo, the best survival strategy is to find someone to love or a close-knit community and hope the warring animals don’t interfere much with your real life. As one who never voted until I had the opportunity to vote for a woman and against the biggest pig of all, I’ve always believed in the notion of relationships as a sanctuary, and in the end, when my vote didn’t mean dick (nor did the vote of the majority), I still had my partner and my family to fall back on and remind me there are more important things in life than pointless power struggles.

Our first deep dive into the album’s cast of furry characters involves the dogs, who are presented as an insanely competitive and thoroughly self-destructive bunch. You generally find dogs in the upper tiers of business, especially in the sales and marketing departments, but the species also includes politicians and other high-powered grifters. The dogs described in the song reflect the pack animal rather than that cute little Yorkie sitting in your lap, and understanding the social order of pack mentality is crucial to appreciating the song. Beyond the observable traits of a pack (fighting amongst themselves for the top dog spot, intense territoriality, hierarchy enforced through sadomasochism), “Pack mentality is a phenomenon in which people make decisions based upon the actions of others, sometimes without even realizing it” (Inpathy Bulletin, 11/7/14). In other words, the dogs have created a social structure based on aggressive competition that contains a built-in self-destruct mechanism in the form of GroupThink. The genes that give them the ability to protect themselves in the wild aren’t balanced with genes that would give them self-awareness. They lack the capacity to recognize that they’ve been seriously fucked by their genetic make-up and can be easily manipulated by the pigs.

If you’ve spent any time working in business, you should be pretty familiar with dogs and their contradictory behavior: they possess the social graces necessary to fit in and can be quite charming, but beneath the smiles and handshakes there’s a near-rabid animal who sees you as another enemy to eliminate on his way up the corporate ladder:

And after a while, you can work on points for style
Like the club tie, and the firm handshake
A certain look in the eye and an easy smile
You have to be trusted by the people that you lie to
So that when they turn their backs on you,
You’ll get the chance to put the knife in

This dynamic creates a toxic environment where people work in a constant state of fear because you’re never quite sure who is a friend and who will screw you in a New York minute. The music supporting the first three verses reflects this perpetual tension through a combination of high-speed acoustic strumming, a markedly eerie organ and a set of chords that defy resolution (Dm9, Ebmaj7sus2, Asus2sus4, Absus2), all fixed to a D note drone. The soundscape is one of nervous tension, of frantic uncertainty, of rabid intensity. Gilmour’s first guitar solo (between verses two and three), where he smoothly navigates the warped scales of the unusual chording, captures the inner dissonance of the pack, a point punctuated by hysterical laughter in the background and descending augmented chords as the solo fades. In another brilliant move, Waters and Gilmour begin to establish the narrator’s manic depression in the still frenetic music of the third verse, foreshadowing the musical descent into half-tempo where the narrator makes the full transition from cutthroat competitor to self-pitying mortal:

(third verse)

You gotta keep one eye looking over your shoulder
You know it’s going to get harder, and harder, and harder as you get older
And in the end you’ll pack up and fly down south
Hide your head in the sand,
Just another sad old man
All alone and dying of cancer

(transitional verse, half-tempo)

And when you lose control, you’ll reap the harvest you have sown
And as the fear grows, the bad blood slows and turns to stone
And it’s too late to lose the weight you used to need to throw around
So have a good drown, as you go down, all alone
Dragged down by the stone (stone, stone, stone, stone, stone)

That tempo shift is extremely well-executed, beginning with a barely perceptible easing up on the accelerator that eventually slows the music to a crawl, then a dead stop. A double lead guitar follows the brief caesura with a bluesy mournful duet in the upper register, and gradually the music dies down, the tempo turns funereal, and the narrator delivers the transitional verse in a tired, defeated voice over a background of acoustic guitar and barking dogs.

An extended synthesized wall of sound follows, a reflection on inevitable doom that eventually takes us back to the original chord pattern. The narrator finally seems to get it, but that fleeting moment vanishes in a second as he reverts to learned behavior:

I gotta admit that I’m a little bit confused
Sometimes it seems to me as if I’m just being used
Gotta stay awake, gotta try and shake off this creeping malaise
If I don’t stand my own ground, how can I find my way out of this maze?

“The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, but expecting different results,” wrote Rita Mae Brown (no relation to Einstein). “Hell yes, you’re being used, you idiot!” I scream into the ether, fully aware that the dumb mutt can’t hear sounds beyond his frequency. The slow march of the closing verses form a sort of eulogy to beings who pissed away their entire lives in pursuit of someone else’s profits, all the while believing they were important people doing important things.

“Dogs” was originally a song called “You’ve Got to Be Crazy” slated for Wish You Were Here, recast by Waters and Gilmour to sync with the themes of Animals. The final product is a superb composition, a thoughtful and impactful blending of music, lyrics and mood. Gilmour is in full command here, his voice and guitar consistently in sync with the tension, aggression and pathos of the species.

No less powerful but for entirely different reasons is the encounter with the elite in “Pigs (Three Different Ones).” The lyrics are bitter, sung in a sweet spot between sarcasm and outrage. The chording is far simpler, largely based on paired chords with slight variations. The simplicity of the foundation allows the instrumentalists to explore a variety of possibilities, but here Floyd avoided the temptation of excessive embellishment by creating a suitably diverse and disciplined arrangement that fills every second of the eleven-plus minutes of the track with dramatic, compelling music.

The discipline is apparent in the extraordinary introduction, where every sound appears at exactly the right moment, where the superfluous has no place. Opening with the grunts of a satisfied pig, Richard Wright gives us a shot across the bow from the synthesizer before switching over to the organ to produce the foreboding minor-key refrain—one of several repetitive figures in the piece. Gilmour enters on fretless bass with a clever counterpoint melodic line played with almost classical precision while a pig grunts away in the background. The smoother textures provided by Wright and Gilmour then give way to the deliciously rough sound of Roger Waters on rhythm guitar. As the volume builds, Richard Wright slips in an echo of the organ theme from somewhere on the astral plane, high above the tension produced by the warring textures, a move that gives me the shivers. Nick Mason then gives us a simple pair of triple beats on the toms to cue Waters’ explosive opening lines:

Big man, pig man
Ha ha, charade you are

Roger knocks me on my ass every time I hear his multiple-breath vocal on the first line, violating every rule of proper breathing techniques but perfect for the communication of deep moral outrage—then he gives me seizure-level shivers with the harmonized line “Ha, ha, charade you are.” It doesn’t matter how many times I hear it, or what kind of mood I’m in—the opening to “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” commands my complete attention, like the music is clutching every fiber in my being.

That may imply that the rest of the song is some kind of letdown, but nothing could be further from the truth. The ominous tension produced by the spare arrangement is as absorbing as a great Hitchcock film, and the explosive variations just as thrilling. The extended instrumental passage, which alternates between two chord pairings (Em/D and C/Bb), features an excruciatingly slow but terribly exciting build. As the song moves from electric guitar chords lazily floating over grunting pigs to a Gilmour solo where he mimics pig sounds on his guitar with the help of a Heil talk box before soaring to the heavens, the soundscape is transformed into one of swirling madness. As the solo ends, Richard Wright is right there with that minor-key organ refrain to pull it all together. Though sometimes Floyd can overdo it with lengthy spacing between movements, they frigging nailed it here.

Though not as comprehensive as “Dogs” or “Sheep” in terms of cataloging the habits of the species, “Pigs (Three Different Ones)” gives us vivid samples of pigdom in the form of three different types and assumes that the listener can fill in the blanks. We can infer from the three samples that pigs are gluttonous, greedy, cruel and controlling. In each sketch of a pig, Waters gives us one or two memorable lines that pretty much says it all:

  • Pig 1: “With your head down in the pigpen/Saying ‘Keep on digging.”
  • Pig 2: “You radiate cold shafts of broken glass.”
  • Pig 3 (moral campaigner Mary Whitehouse): “All tight lips and cold feet.”

Though Waters occasionally crosses the line into making the song about his personal feelings as opposed to evoking the listener’s emotions (“You fucked up old hag”), most listeners can identify with his “How dare they!” orientation, feeling the same mix of astonishment and indignation that such morally corrupt beings have been granted control over the whole works.

We now plummet to the bottom of the social hierarchy in “Sheep,” another song rescued from the Wish You Were Here scrapheap. The original (“Raving and Drooling”) was conceived as an extended jam piece, which may explain why “Sheep” lacks the compositional strength of its companions. The music is oddly uptempo, and I don’t know about you, but when I think of sheep, speed isn’t the first thing that comes to mind. The brilliance of “Sheep” is found in the lyrics, a marvelously wicked take on Psalm 23:

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want
He makes me down to lie
Through pastures green He leadeth me the silent waters by
With bright knives he releaseth my soul
He maketh me to hang on hooks in high places
He converteth me to lamb cutlets
For lo, He hath great power, and great hunger
When cometh the day we lowly ones
Through quiet reflection, and great dedication
Master the art of karate
Lo, we shall rise up
And then we’ll make the bugger’s eyes water

In the end, they respond to the news of the dogs’ self-inflicted demise by deciding to stay home and out of sight . . . like sheep.

The album ends with “Pigs on the Wing (Part 2),” where Roger Waters not only returns to the theme of relationship-as-refuge but surprisingly admits that he’s as much of a dog as anyone else in the music business:

You know that I care
What happens to you
And I know that you care
For me too

So I don’t feel alone
Or the weight of the stone
Now that I’ve found somewhere safe
To bury my bone

And any fool knows a dog needs a home
A shelter from pigs on the wing

I’m kind of surprised that I haven’t found anyone online who picked up on the erotic pun, but I’m happy for Roger that he found a nice wet pussy where he can bury his horny rockstar bone.

In the end, Animals reflects both the dreary gloom and the accompanying anger of the British populace in the late ‘70s as they realized that the system had failed them. The punks of the era also expressed similar sentiments in shorter, rougher bursts of frustration, but really, the difference between the punks and Pink Floyd was a matter of form over substance. Though the whole “I Hate Pink Floyd” thing was overblown, the band became a symbol of what the punks considered musical excess and unbridled pretentiousness. That was unfortunate, for the acrid, focused and insightful social criticism featured on Animals clearly indicates they were all on the same side.

Talk about dog-eat dog.

Imogen Heap – Speak for Yourself – Classic Music Review

My review of Frou Frou, Imogen Heap’s collaboration with Guy Sigsworth, had less to do with the music and more to do with how certain music can take on meaning based on what the listener is experiencing at a certain point in life. The truth is that I have an unusually strong attachment to that particular album because it helped me make sense of things during a rather volatile period. Reading the review six years later, I don’t think it’s a particularly good review and probably should have been categorized under Chick Riffs, where I give myself the freedom to occasionally get things off my ample and aesthetically pleasing chest. As I don’t go back and correct reviews unless I discover a factual error, the “review” will remain as-is to remind me that I can always do better next time, no matter how many next times come my way.

Let’s see how that advice-to-self works out with the album that made Imogen Heap famous.

The most important thing to know about Imogen Heap is that she is classically-trained. I too am classically-trained, and I consider that adjective the ultimate double-edged sword. When you are classically-trained you learn a lot about music theory as defined by the Western musical paradigm and how to apply that knowledge on the instrument or instruments of your choice. As Ted Gioia recently pointed out in a video talk, that paradigm dates back to Pythagoras, the mathematician who designed the scales that have defined Western music for centuries and set down the rules that limited music to the notes in those scales. While classical lessons are valuable in terms of appreciating musical structure and range, they carry with them a whole lot of unnecessary baggage that falls under the heading of mathematical perfectionism. When you go to the symphony, you will never hear the first violinist or the second trombonist vary from the script as written down in those funny little symbols on, below or above those inadequately structured lines; if you did, your next encounter with that wayward musician would take place at the unemployment office.

That is why my mother insisted I train in both classical and jazz styles. Before you learn jazz, though, you have to get solid training in blues scales, those wonders of African origin that ignored Pythagoras by bending notes and using chord combinations that the superstitious traced to the devil. Most jazz musicians understand music theory and many are in fact classically-trained, but rather than following the timeworn rules, they use the looser sensibility of the blues as a springboard for play. When I practiced Mozart on my flute, I never felt like I was playing. I felt like I was working after studying very hard, and I only felt good when I got it right. Jazz musicians play, in the simplest and most precious definition of the word, exploring outside the lines for new sound combinations. There is no right in jazz, and trying too hard to get it right destroys the feel.

Though her music may not sound “classical” due to the dominance of electronic instruments and software-produced sound, there is indeed strong classical influence running through Imogen Heap’s music, largely manifested in the pursuit of her concept of perfectionism. Her songs at this juncture of her career rarely strayed from standard pop structures, and her melodies lacked the slightest hints of blue notes. Even the “natural instruments” used on her records are often passed through various gates and processors in the pursuit of the ideal. Here’s what she said to CW Entertainment while plugging Speak for Yourself:

Actually, many of the sounds that I work with start off as organic instruments — guitar, piano, clarinet, etc. But I do love the rigidity of electronic drums. For this record, I would record live drums, and then I would spend a day editing them to take the life out of them. I like to breathe my own life into these sounds, and I do try to keep the ‘air’ in the music. Some people think electronic music is cold, but I think that has more to do with the people listening than the actual music itself.

Peter Gabriel had a similar hang-up with cymbals, those messy accessories that are so difficult to manage in the recording process. Since I have never once noticed the drums on an Imogen Heap album, I’d say she certainly succeeded in taking the life out of them, and might want to ease up on the editing or get a larger air supply. Her defense of electronic music sounds a bit snarky, as in “if people don’t like my music there’s something wrong with their ears,” but somewhat understandable because a lot of people won’t listen to electronic music simply because it’s electronic.

I’m in the middle on the topic of technology and music. If the creators know what they’re doing, I’m cool with it. If they’re just screwing around with software, they bore me. I think the trend of sampling other people’s music to enhance your own is as lazy as lazy gets, but that’s pretty much my feeling about all rap, hip-hop and modern pop music, where sampling is most frequently employed.

As for Speak for Yourself, it’s something of a mixed bag. Most of the arrangements are extraordinarily busy, as if Imogen was having too much fun adding cool effects instead of stepping back and considering the cumulative impact on the composition. With one or two exceptions, her lyrical emphasis on inner dialogue and one-sided conversations that worked so well on Frou Frou doesn’t work as well here, largely because she too often resorts to clichés and catchwords, and partially because most of the stories deal with failed relationships, which gets old after a while. Again, with one or two exceptions, the music hasn’t progressed all that much from Frou Frou except for a few interesting effects; if you’re looking for something more diverse (and with less noisy arrangements), fast forward to her next album, Ellipse. Essentially, Speak for Yourself is Frou Frou redux with at least one masterpiece, backed by a stronger PR effort courtesy of American television shows like The O. C., Criminal Minds and Ghost Whisperer.

The opening song, “Headlock,” is one of the most predictable songs I’ve ever heard, and I have no idea how it became a single or even made it on to the album. I knew from the get-go that the overture, a mild combination of celeste-like beeps, cello and synth fills was a set-up for the overused soft-LOUD technique, and sure enough, we get the predictably “sudden” explosion of full stereo sound in the second chorus. The lyrics fall far short of interesting, a one-sided attack on a partner centered around a weak metaphor (the headlock) and a cliché (“You know you’re better than this”). If you’re going to start an album in a minor key, you better make the song as sexy as fuck, but “Headlock” is about as sexy as a migraine headache.

“Goodnight and Go” finds Imogen in a relationship with a married man bemoaning her fate as the partner who has to sleep alone once the guy gets his rocks off. The man’s alleged appeal is captured in the dreadful line, “Why d’ya have to be so cute,” and his cuteness is so compelling that she has to surreptitiously follow him home and peep through the window to watch him strip. The juxtaposition of “cute” and “naked man” calls up a picture of a dick dressed up as a finger puppet with a smile face on the head—not exactly an irresistibly erotic image. What saves the track from oblivion is the all-too-brief appearance of Jeff Beck, who seriously rips it on the solo, a welcome break from the electronic barrage.

“Have You Got It in You” is pretty much a copy of the opening track (minor key, bring in the rest of the electronic band on the second chorus) with layered vocals designed to reflect the inner dialogue going on in Imogen’s head. Let’s just say it’s not half as interesting as Molly Bloom’s soliloquy at the end of Ulysses and move on to “Loose Ends,” an incredibly annoying pop song that barely rises above the level of Bob Crewe’s “Music to Watch Girls Go By.”

Let’s recap the game as we head into the fifth inning. Imogen has filled the scoreboard with a string of zeroes augmented with a bloop single in the second, a stray walk and a couple of errors. The pent-up energy of the fans manifests itself in the overwhelming excitement they display while rooting for their favorite color in that stupid motorboat race that appears on the giant screen. Once the hysteria dies down, they debate whether or not to go for another round of hot dogs and garlic fries or stay in their seats in the hope that Imogen’s bats will come out of their slumber.

Stay in your seats, folks, because Imogen is about to hit a grand slam.

“Hide and Seek” is the direct result of one of those happy accidents that often result in a great recording.

My favorite computer blew up on me. But I didn’t want to leave the studio without having done anything that day. I saw the [DigiTech Vocalist Workstation] on a shelf and just plugged it into my little 4-track MiniDisc with my mic and my keyboard and pressed Record. The first thing that I sang was those first few lines, ‘Where are we? What the hell is going on?’ I set the vocalist to a four-note polyphony, so even if I play 10 notes on the keyboard, it will only choose four of them. It’s quite nicely surprising when it comes back with a strange combination. When it gets really high in the second chorus, that’s a result of it choosing higher rather than low notes, so I ended up going even higher to compensate, above the chord. I recorded it in, like, four-and-a-half minutes, and it ended up on the album in exactly the structure of how it came out of me then. I love it because it doesn’t feel like my song. It just came out of nowhere, and I’m not questioning that one at all.

This dramatic monologue sung from the perspective of an adolescent girl experiencing the break-up of her parents’ marriage is thankfully delivered a cappella, with only a few stray background sounds of home life (a sizzling frying pan, for example) adding slight contrast to the vocal. The Digitech creates a powerful compressive effect that serves to intensify the bitterness of the girl’s feelings, like a volcanic stream of emotion running through a sieve. A cappella is often used as a device to draw attention to story and storyteller, and rather than distract from the dual sense of intimacy and vulnerability of that form, the electronic effects serve to magnify both. Imogen also varies her phrasing (in addition to the variance added by a delay effect) to mirror the stutter-stop cadence of emotional expression, integrating her natural and breathy voices to express the broad range of the girl’s stewing emotions. The result is a uniquely compelling and emotive listing experience.

The sad and stark landscape of a family falling apart is highlighted through images involving the removal of artifacts that meant home: standing lamps leaving “crop circles,” pictures of the family in happier times exchanged for unsightly marks:

The dust has only just begun to form
Crop circles in the carpet, sinking feeling . . .

Oily marks appear on walls
Where pleasure moments hung before the takeover
The sweeping insensitivity of this still life

Imogen’s pause between “this” and “still life” on that last line communicates the magnitude of the change; the girl first describes her experience as indescribable (“THIS”) before finding the words “still life,” a powerful image of motionlessness, of life frozen in time.

Equally striking passages are found when Imogen shifts to rhythmic phrasing as the girl confronts one or both parents. The anger at her abandonment is expressed through lines dripping with sarcasm in response to the empty reassurance dished out by the grown-ups:

Mm, what’d you say?
Mm, that you only meant well
Well of course you did
Mm, what’d you say?
Mm, that it’s all for the best
Of course it is
Mm, what’d you say?
Mm, that it’s just what we need
And you decided this
Mm, what’d you say?
Mm, what did she say?

As they continue to blather on with their guilt-ridden attempt at consolation, the girl shifts to inner dialogue, as if she’s having an out-of-body experience that enables her to see through the pathetic façade:

Ransom notes keep falling out your mouth
Amid sweet talk, newspaper word cutouts
Speak no feeling, no, unbelieving
You don’t care a bit, you don’t care a bit

Imogen sings this pattern in a higher pitch and stiffer cadence, layering a second vocal that combines echoes of the main lyric with wordless vocalizations that say “Oh, no, this can’t be happening” far more effectively than words. The song fades on the repetition of “You don’t care a bit,” expressing adolescent feelings completely free of empathy for what the adults are going through—unfair, perhaps, but true to the character. “Hide and Seek” is a one-of-a-kind experience, a uniquely powerful and rich creation that expresses and evokes emotion with exceptional delivery and impact. An absolute masterpiece.

Well, she had to follow it up with something, but did she really have to follow such a grand masterwork with a song that begins with the phrase, “Knock, knock?” Sorry, I can’t resist:

Knock, knock.

Who’s there?

Imogen.

Imogen who.

Imogen there’s no heaven . . .

It’s the perfect lead-in for a really dumb song that uses the security guard phrase “clear the area” to communicate who knows what. The song seems to involve a relationship between narrator and a guy with a drinking problem, but if she was trying to craft a piece to highlight the problems of co-dependence, well, she needed to try harder.

Imogen finally gets hot and nasty with distorted guitar and the near-metal intensity with “Daylight Robbery.” Her unrestrained vocal is a welcome change from the norm, a Dionysian display of joy in the thrills of city lights and excess (which she defines as “the new moderation”). One or two more songs with this kind of erotic intensity would have been welcome to relieve the downbeat mood that dominates the album. “The Walk” comes close with the strongest pop arrangement on the record, but the narrator’s I want it/I don’t want it attitude towards sex dulls the erotic edge, and the sudden emergence of a metaphor that likens the experience of a woman on the sexual fence to a sea-going vessel under attack really kills the mood. When I’m feeling it in my nether regions, I don’t have an overwhelming urge to pop Das Boot into the DVD player.

“Just for Now” was a holiday song rejected by the producers of The O. C. for being “too dark.” Funny, I would have rejected it for being too obvious—a too obvious regurgitation of things dysfunctional families do during the season to be jolly. That weak song is followed by Imogen’s even weaker attempt at sex kitten status, “I Am in Love with You,” where once again the ready-and-willing female falls out of love at the crucial moment. “Closing In” features a never-ending stream of electronic sounds, vanilla sex lyrics and finally, for the first time, I DO notice the drums—bloody awful. Speak for Yourself ends with the rather gloomy “The Moment I Said It,” partially rescued by contrasting melodies that are quite interesting and hint at greater possibilities in the future.

Those possibilities would be more fully realized on her next album, Ellipse, where she diversifies her music and significantly enhances her production and arrangement skills. Speak for Yourself was her first attempt at self-production, a difficult task for any artist, and she still needed more time and practice narrowing down the infinite possibilities of electronic music to form coherent, disciplined compositions. Essentially Speak for Yourself is “Hide and Seek,” “Daylight Robbery” and several other pieces that needed more time on the scratch pad.

Still, if you’ve composed a masterpiece on the level of “Hide and Seek,” you can take deep satisfaction in your work and try to do better next time.

 

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