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Music Review: Swing Out Sister – Beautiful Mess

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Stop the average person on the street and ask them about Swing Out Sister, and if you're lucky, you'll get a quick trill of "Breakout", their 1986 debut breakthrough single which reached number 4 in the UK and number 6 in the US charts.  Which is a shame because they continued making some excellent albums long after they stopped bothering the chart compilers back around 1994.

2008 sees Swing Out Sister releasing their ninth studio album, following the 2004 release Where Our Love Grows, and it's yet another excellent entry in their canon of work.  It may be over 20 years since their debut It's Better to Travel came out and went to the top of the UK album charts, but a traveler in time would have no problem recognizing the late night jazz, trip hop hybrid that they've employed so well over the years.

The vocals of Corinne Drewery have a richer, warmer tone than it did back in the early days, something that lends itself well to the extra dollops of sixties soul that have appeared over the years, with songs like "I'd Be Happy" owing as much to the Motown songbook as anything else.  An instantly memorable tune, with some classic soul backing vocals, arranged by one Gina Foster, who I would imagine is the same singer who worked with the legendary British acid jazzers, Incognito.

It's the Far Eastern market that has kept them afloat over the years, and their lush, timeless, harmony laden songs seem to have struck a chord in Japan and the Philippines, where sell out tours are the norm for them.  However, this album has a slightly different sonic structure to it, something that perhaps only die hard Swing Out Sister fans might notice, but there is a flatter sound to the album which leaves a couple of the tracks such as "All I Say, All I Do" lacking.  Maybe it's the mysterious absence of behind the scenes guy, Paul Staveley O'Duffy, but something has definitely changed.

However, when they hit top form, as they do more often than not, it's an absolute treat.  The highlights are many with the title track in particular an absolute peach.  It's one of those songs that you keep returning to, hearing something new with every repeat play.  Elsewhere, "Something Every Day" and "My State Of Mind" would see them back atop the charts in a just world.  There are a couple of remixes appended which don't add to the album, but for the best part of ten tracks, it's a treat.

If you're one of the people who've missed out on the last twenty years of Swing Out Sister, then this is your chance to put things right.

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About Stuart A Hamilton