Sophie Ellis-Bextor – 'Wanderlust' album review

After her 'Strictly' appearance, the singer shuffles off the sequins for a return to buttoned-up pop

Time Out Ratings :

<strong>Rating: </strong>3/5

Sophie Ellis-Bextor was never quite at home in sequins. As last year’s series of ‘Strictly Come Dancing’ proved, she can have a stab at most things and chances are she’ll make impressive strides – but there was something about her regal jawline and disinclination for whooping that was at odds with the bawdy hoopla of Bruce Forsyth’s Saturday night extravaganza.

The same goes for her music. Ellis-Bextor’s career highs have come when she has taken her haughty hue and used it to stand out in the world of throwaway electro-pop. She reported a ‘Murder on the Dancefloor’ with a plummy reserve that was more BBC World Service than E! News – and it worked. But elsewhere the same icy reserve has come across as dead-eyed boredom rather than enthralling cool. Ellis-Bextor somehow lacks the crowd-pleasing appeal of Kylie, a pop star who was always at home in sequins.

So it is satisfying to find Ellis-Bextor in self-confident, mature mode on her fifth studio album, made in a whirlwind two weeks with gloom-peddling producer Ed Harcourt. Ellis-Bextor has called ‘Wanderlust’ ‘the biggest present to myself,’ and it shows. First single ‘Young Blood’ is a delicate love song, awash with soaring strings and simple piano that work in perfect harmony with her voice.

Vintage melodies and themes reappear elsewhere. ‘Runaway Dreamer’ opens like the strings-laden soundtrack to a Humphrey Bogart film, and its musings on escapism (‘I could tie up the bed sheets and slide down the house, / Be gone before the morning comes’) remind us that this is SEB’s ‘artistic freedom’ album. ‘Interlude’ is an irresistible ditty that crackles as though the singer is crooning along to an old record player whilst lounging alone on a velvet chaise longue.

The album’s rowdiest number, ‘13 Little Dolls’, breaks the spell a little with its incongruous, Amy McDonald-esque ‘rock-out’ guitars. Better is ‘Love Is a Camera’, which builds towards a gypsy polka finish with an increasingly frantic piano accompanying Ellis-Bextor’s mischievous vocal (‘Run, run away from the house on the hill / There’s a witch in the house and she’s living there still!’). It’s one of the more energetic moments on ‘Wanderlust’, and a welcome break from lullabies (such as ‘The Deer and the Wolf’) that risk monotony.

Wanderlust is very much a statement of intent: ‘Strictly’ is over and Sophie Ellis-Bextor is ready to hang up those sequins. It won’t appeal to everybody, but it deserves to recruit the singer a new fan base who are happy to find her in buttoned-up lace.

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