British vocalist / songwriter Sophie Ellis-Bextor introduced herself to the world as the frontwoman to the alt-rock outfit Theaudience. Her cool and cutting method matched perfectly to the late ’90s Britpop sound of the group and made Theaudience something of a critical sensation. Despite that critical favor, lack of commercial fortune split Theaudience and Bextor gambled that dance music would herald the next phase of her career.
Enter DJ Spiller and his composition “Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love),” to which Bextor supplied lyrics and vocals in 2000. It was the first of many musical transformations for the chanteuse.
Now, 19 years removed from Theaudience, Bextor’s catalog runs six solo albums deep with this year’s Familia as proof of her power. Bextor’s grasp of pop music shows an awareness that the genre isn’t solely beholden to four-on-the-floor ideas; this knowledge has led her to outfox predecessors and lap contemporaries. Sadly, Bextor’s following outside of her native Britain doesn’t extend past cult status ― yet.
This overview acts as an introduction to one of the brightest voices in contemporary pop.
Read My Lips (Polydor)
Year of Release: 2001
Notable Staff: Gregg Alexander (producer), Sophie Ellis-Bextor (vocals, principal songwriter), Andy Boyd (songwriter), Mathias Johansson (guitar, bass, keyboards, programming), Henri Korpi (producer, arranger, keyboards), Damian LeGassick (producer, programming, keyboards, guitars), Guy Pratt (bass guitar), Yoad Nevo (guitars, programming, percussion), Matt Rowe (producer, songwriter), John Themis (guitars), Rosie Wetter (string arrangements)
Summary: After scoring a collaborative hit with DJ Spiller on “Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love),” it was no surprise that Bextor kept orbiting the mirrorball on her debut, Read My Lips.
The album impacted in sync with one of the many post-post-disco-pop revolutions happening within the United Kingdom in the early 2000s. As a result, the long player became a double platinum seller and spun off a slew of charting singles in “Move This Mountain,” “Music Gets the Best of Me,” “Get Over You,” “Take Me Home” (a cover of Cher’s 1979 hit) and “Murder on the Dancefloor.”
Of the singles, it was “Move This Mountain” that shocked; a brooding slice of stormy alternative pop, it was completely anathema to the clubby vibe of the singles earmarked from Lips. It was the first hint that Bextor hadn’t lost her roots from Theaudience.
The remainder of the album was peppered with highlights like the “grind-whir-click” of “Lover” and the pastel ballad “By Chance,” but overall the record felt a bit top-heavy. Bextor was still forming her own identity, but listeners didn’t have to wait much longer before Bextor revealed her true hand on her next project.
Check Out: “Murder on the Dancefloor,” “Lover,” “Move This Mountain,” “By Chance”
Shoot from the Hip (Polydor)
Year of Release: 2003
Notable Staff: Gregg Alexander (producer, songwriter), Sophie Ellis-Bextor (vocals, principal songwriter), Andy Boyd (songwriter), Bernard Butler (guitar, keyboards, string arrangements, songwriter), Rob Davis (guitar, songwriter), Damian LeGassick (producer, programming, keyboards, guitars, string arrangements), Mike Lovatt (trumpet), Matt Rowe (producer, programming, keyboards, songwriter), Winston Rollins (trombone), Lewis Taylor (guitar, bass guitar), Enrico Tomasso (trumpet), Jeremy Wheatley (producer, drums)
Summary: The second time around, Bextor’s writing abilities rose to the surface on Shoot from the Hip. Said writing let Bextor’s own quirk and emotional intensity come through on the album’s eclectic collection of songs.
Commercial success (criminally) alluded her sophomore album, but Shoot from the Hip expanded Bextor’s sound outside of dance music and into electro-funk (“Mixed Up World,” “Another Day”), torch (“I Am Not Good at Not Getting What I Want”) and snarling guitar pop (“You Get Yours”).
In addition to the original compositions, Bextor flaunted her interpretive skills with takes of floorfiller pop classics like “Physical” (Olivia Newton-John) and “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie” (Baccara); Bextor’s versions benefited from a sapiosexual-like charge. The latter song was the flipside to the genteel neo-disco single “I Won’t Change You.” “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie,” alongside the stark acoustica of “The Earth Shook the Devil’s Hand” (b-side to single “Mixed Up World”), evinced Bextor could deliver quality on the actual album and on the alternate sides of tracks pulled from that record.
In hindsight, Shoot from the Hip was Bextor’s first consistent pairing of dance music and experimental pop.
Check Out: “Making Music,” “Mixed Up World,” “You Get Yours,” “I Am Not Good at Not Getting What I Want”
Trip the Light Fantastic (Fascination)
Year of Release: 2007
Notable Staff: Jane Best (string arrangements), Sophie Ellis-Bextor (vocals, principal songwriter), Miranda Cooper (producer, songwriter), Cathy Dennis (songwriter), Pascal Gabriel (producer), Brian Higgins (producer, songwriter), Liam Howe (producer, songwriter), Richard Jones (bass), Tim Van Der Kuil (guitar), Greg Kurstin (producer, programming, songwriter), Guy Pratt (bass guitar), Matt Prime (producer, songwriter), Tim Powell (producer, songwriter), Steve Robson (producer, songwriter), Matt Rowe (producer, keyboards, songwriter), Dan Gillespie Sells (guitar, songwriter), Richard Stannard (producer, songwriter), Brio Taliaferro (producer, programming), Dimitri Tikovoï (producer, songwriter), Pete Wareham (saxophone), Jeremy Wheatley (producer, drums)
Summary: Bextor’s junior outing, Trip the Light Fantastic, cranked the energy level up another notch with a balance of power pop and New Romantic-tinged synth music. Often, Bextor excitingly bridged these styles on the sylphlike strikes of “Me and My Imagination” and “New York City Lights.” Power ballads like “Today the Sun’s on Us,” “The Distance Between Us” and “What Have We Started?” bolstered her already captivating vocalizing.
Further, she kept showcasing her unique tastes in the music of others.
Both Read My Lips and Shoot from the Hip housed, on the albums proper and their b-sides, astutely delivered covers. Bextor’s rendition of the German synth-pop band Propaganda’s “Duel” ― tucked away as the flip to the mentioned single “Today the Sun’s on Us” ― was too gorgeous to have been denied access to Trip the Light Fantastic.
In all, the record was another solid entry into Bextor’s growing canon and soothed some of the post-Shoot from the Hip commercial tension.
Check Out: “Me and My Imagination,” “New York City Lights,” “The Distance Between Us,” “Only One”
Make a Scene (EBGB’s)
Year of Release: 2011
Notable Staff: Fred Ball (keyboards, production, programming), Sophie Ellis-Bextor (vocals, principal songwriter), Armin van Buuren (producer, songwriter), Junior Caldera (producer, songwriter), Cathy Dennis (songwriter), Ben Epstein (guitar), Ed Harcourt (producer, piano, string arrangements), Calvin Harris (producer, songwriter), Richard Harris (producer, songwriter), Liam Howe (producer, songwriter), Greg Kurstin (producer, programming, songwriter), Róisín Murphy (songwriter), Hannah Robinson (songwriter), Matt Rowe (producer), Russell Small (percussion, songwriter), Dimitri Tikovoï (producer, songwriter), James Wiltshire (keyboards, songwriter)
Summary: After a prolonged birthing period for her fourth LP (three years), Make a Scene finally arrived in 2011; it would be her first record, sans a major label, released on her own imprint EBGB’s.
Make a Scene had been buoyed by two kinetic singles in “Heartbreak (Make Me a Dancer)” and “Bittersweet.” Both embraced her club music muse like never before and indicated the overall sound arc of the record.
Opening with the adrenaline shot of “Revolution,” the pace rarely relented, going from one pop-funker to another. There were a few mid-to-downtempo works accounted for to let listeners catch their breath, such as the lavish “Starlight,” later selected as the set’s final single. Even with the seductive energy palpable on Scene, the record felt transitional, with Bextor ready to shed one creative skin and evolve.
With Make a Scene, Bextor crafted her own boogie wonderland but fixed her gaze to wider aural vistas just over the horizon.
Check Out: “Bittersweet,” “Off and On,” “Starlight,” “Magic”
Year of Release: 2014
Notable Staff: Sophie Ellis-Bextor (vocals, principal songwriter), Seton Daunt (guitar), Ed Harcourt (songwriter, keyboards, guitar, piano, producer, synthesizers, string arrangements), Richard Jones (bass), Amy Langley (cello), Gita Langley (violin), Rosie Langley (violin), Arnulf Lindner (double bass), Phil Wilkinson (drums, percission), Polly Wiltshire (viola)
Summary: Upon introduction to the general press and public, Wanderlust induced awe.
Granted, the album was something of a departure when taking into account its immediate predecessor; however, Bextor had strewn creative clues throughout her solo albums ― all of them anchored in her idiosyncratic past with Theaudience.
Bextor came full circle to that initial launchpad, but with her vision firmly intact. Pulling from a miscellany of sounds that included Eastern European orchestral musings (“Birth of an Empire”), neo-folk (“Interlude”) and Phil Spector flavors (“13 Little Dolls,” “Runaway Daydreamer”), Bextor crafted one of the most seminal dance-pop departure vehicles in recent memory.
It was apparent she was not going to return to dance-pop by numbers to sate lazy critics or a certain segment of her base. In the end, Wanderlust became Bextor’s most commercially successful record since Read My Lips 14 years earlier.
Check Out: “Birth of an Empire,” “Runaway Daydreamer,” “The Deer and the Wolf,” “Cry to the Beat of the Band”
Year of Release: 2016
Notable Staff: Sophie Ellis-Bextor (vocals, principal songwriter), Seton Daunt (guitar), Nick Etwell (trumpet), Ed Harcourt (songwriter, keyboards, guitar, piano, producer, synthesizers, string arrangements), Richard Jones (bass, synthesizer), Amy Langley (cello), Gita Langley (violin), Rosie Langley (violin), Arnulf Lindner (double bass), Phil Wilkinson (drums, percission), Polly Wiltshire (viola)
Summary: Familia, Bextor’s sixth LP, encapsulated the transformative nature of pop again to precision.
Through consolidation of previous career incarnations, Bextor flexed her imaginative muscles with vitality. She touched on the synth fusion of Trip the Light Fantastic (“Wild Forever”), the majesty of Wanderlust (“Here Comes the Rapture”), and the offbeat rock of Theaudience (“My Puppet Heart”). But, one cannot resist Bextor’s wink to the dancefloor with the album’s leadoff single, “Come with Us,” the best collision of disco and rock and roll since Donna Summer’s “Hot Stuff.”
Familia was the perfect follow-up to the cunning Wanderlust, a thoroughly modern example of pop artistry at its finest.
Check Out: “Wild Forever,” “Here Comes the Rapture,” “Come with Us,” “Cassandra”
For current news on Sophie Ellis-Bextor, visit her official website or follow her on Twitter.
Purchase Familia here.