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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

Sophie Ellis-Bextor, "China Heart" (2007)

Almost every song on Sophie Ellis-Bextor's Trip The Light Fantastic achieves a seamless marriage between lyrical subject matter on the one hand, and melody and arrangement on the other. "Catch You" -- which is essentially a rewrite of Blondie's "One Way Or Another" -- logically features aggressively crunchy guitars for its tale of stalking, while "New York City Lights" encourages us to run away with Sophie to a city that the song represents via a 70s disco beat. "Love Is Here" bathes its slightly banal Carpenterish sentiments in a 70s AM radio sound (no surprise that's one of two tracks cowritten with The Feeling's Dan Gillespie Sells). Meanwhile, the terrific Xenomania-produced "If You Go" has something akin to a schaffel rhythm that perfectly fits the story of indecision, one full of back-and-forth alternatives ("If you go, if you stay...").

The seamlessness of the fits between lyric and music is, in itself, neither a good nor bad thing, and I point it out only to indicate one of the ways track eleven, "China Heart," stands apart from the rest of the album. This tale of a cold, aloof girl whose heart is emotionally fragile, like porcelain ("My china heart, a work of art/So cold to those who play/I can easily break") is, of course, the perfect song for someone with Sophie's ice-queen persona. But the song is not some sort of frosty electro-ballad, which would have been the obvious way to go. Instead, the story is set to one of the most gloriously breakneck beats of the entire record, bathed in pulsating, quivering synthlines straight out of the Moroder playbook. Specifically the 80s chapter, in which Giorgio decides to maniacally speed up his arpeggios, as he did when producing Berlin, or when creating the backing track of "Love Kills" for Freddie Mercury to wail over.

Furthermore, "China Heart" includes the theremin effect. There are ten seconds of pulsations at the start, a drum crash, and then a distorted ghostly voice tells us, and I approximate, "eeeooh eeeooh eeeoooh." The backing banshees return for the chorus, where they rise up with ooohs and aaaahs while handclaps swirl around them. Added to the Moroder rhythms, "China Heart" becomes pure Gothic disco, and the effect is almost self-mocking: far from drowning in self-pity about her easily breakable organ, "China Heart" sees Sophie ironically-yet-sincerely presenting herself as a kind of freakshow. Welcome to the CIRCUS, ladies and gentlemen! STEEEP right up! Come SEE the bearded lady, the Elephant Man, and also She Who Has THE CHINA HEART!

(This better be a single, if only because I think I've just written the awesome video treatment.) (Also, this will give us an extended version of the song, with a longer middle eight where the drums go COMPLETELY MENTAL, like little fists beating on the inside of your head.)


  • I couldn't agree more! China Heart is a gem. After cycling through the other excellent Sophie tracks, China Heart has become my fave.

    I love the line about how "hungry dogs will chase you / if you try and get through" ...

    I totally see your video treatment working for the song. Sounds like Sophie needs to hire you! :) Oh yeah, and pass the circus peanuts willya?

    By Blogger Yuяi, at 12:32 AM  

  • It's funny, after listening to the fantastic "Itch And Scratch" from your previous post, I decided right away to include it on my own annual "Electro-Pop summer" compilation. The song it replaced: "China Heart". I found the maniacal Moroderesque arpeggios + the theremined eeeoohs a bit too wierd (freaky?) for my ears. I did include "The Distance Between Us" though, which is nothing groundbreaking but it has a brilliant intro...maybe I'm getting old

    ...and yes it would be great to see Sophie as a circus freak, although I doubt it'll ever happen.

    By Blogger daavid, at 5:24 AM  

  • 1. Sophie can have the video idea. David Lynch, of course, should direct.

    2. And when the line "hungry dogs will chase you..." comes up, we also get these spooky background "doo-doo-doo-doo-doooo" noises. Release the hounds!!! Awesome.

    3. daavid, please to tell what else is on the compilation, we want to know the tracklist, kthnx.

    4. "It would be great to see Sophie as a circus freak, although I doubt it'll ever happen." Readers, please write your own cruel "but have you never seen a Sophie album cover...or a photo of her?" jokes.

    By Blogger Brittle, at 2:50 PM  

  • I don't have the tracklist on this computer, but, on top of my head:

    Kylie - White Diamond
    Groove Armada/Mutya - Out of Control
    Rihanna - Umbrella (I know, this one isn't exactly electropop, but whatever)
    Roisin Murphy Overpowered
    Nordstrom - Du Og Jeg
    SEB - The distance Between Us
    Chungking - Itch & Scratch
    Kylie - In My Arms
    Margaret Berger - Robot Song
    Kleerup feat. Robyn - With Every
    Luke Haines - Off My Rocker
    Sally Shapiro - I'll be by your side
    Amerie - Crazy Wonderful
    Tiger Baby - At least I'm honest
    DKDENT - Teenage Love, as you can see, I quite liked some of the tracks you've featured here :)

    By Blogger daavid, at 3:34 AM  

  • Oh, that's an excellent comp. It may need some Dragonette, and maybe the Jessica Folcker track "Snowflakes." And there are more electro tracks on the Rihanna albums. (Ooh, that may be my week of posts sorted out.) But it's an excellent comp.

    By Blogger Brittle, at 12:25 AM  

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