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Monday, 3 September 2012

Martina Topley-Bird - Quixotic (2003)

I bought this album from a little independent record shop in Newcastle-under-Lyme called Cheeky Monkey’s. The shop opened about a month before Music Zone went on their aggressive expansion rampage that saw them opening stores within yards of independent and chain shops alike and undercut them, meaning that scores of independent shops went out of business.

I had read quite a few reviews that gave Martina Topley-Bird’s Quixotic album an incredible amount of praise. Phrases like ‘timeless classic’ and ‘absolutely sublime’ were banded around, and the fact that I’d loved her vocals on some of Tricky’s records meant that I was little bit more than intrigued. But since buying the album in 2003, I have hardly listened to it.

The intro to the album is a short piece of gospel music, with hummed backing vocals and tambourines being lost in a sea of reverb. ‘Need One’ is a track that could fit on any Tricky album, and is somewhat reminiscent of ‘Aftermath’ from Tricky’s debut album Maxinquaye but with an anthemic rock chorus with guitars provided by none other than Queen of the Stone Age’s own Josh Homme and gravelly backing vocals provided by Mark Lanegan of Screaming Trees fame. ‘Anything’ is much more subdued, sounding like the folky efforts of artists like Damien Rice, a quite moving and fragile sound, that is also inoffensive and easy to forget. ‘Lullaby’ is a great song, with jazz inspired guitar, backwards masked sounds, and a metronome that clicks slowly throughout, giving the song a strange, uneasy feel. ‘Too Tough To Die’ feels like some of PJ Harvey’s darker songs, with its dirty, bluesy guitar, it broods with anger and intensity: an awesome track. Gamers might recognise the song ‘Sandpaper Kisses’ from Quantic Dream’s 2005 game Fahrenheit. The track fits perfectly with the cinematic scope of the game; it is spacious and airy, and has some really interesting sounds flowing in and out of the mix. ‘I Still Feel’ sounds very dated; the music would probably fit quite well on Depeche Mode’s Exciter album, and the song feels quite generic within its context as it’s probably the least experimental song on the album. ‘Ilya’ verges into the territory of Portishead’s more experimental works, with off-beat rhythms and musical samples punctuating the mix. Album closer ‘Stevie’s (Day’s of a Gun)’- not sure what’s going on with the grammar here - is an odd song that doesn’t seem to be sure as to whether it’s meant to be a precursor to dubstep, or an uplifting orchestral piece. It’s almost as if two pieces of music have been played over each other with the hope that they’d mesh: it doesn’t work.

I’m glad that I Iistened to this album again after almost a decade of it gathering dust on my shelf. It’s a really interesting album with a couple of excellent tracks. The fact I haven’t played it in so long is probably because I have forgotten just how good it is. It’s happened a few times recently where I have gone into an album expecting it to be slung into the charity bag, only to be pleasantly surprised. This album is definitely a keeper, and hopefully it will receive a bit more attention than it has over the last few years.

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Tom Green (not that one) said...

ha, i'd forgotten all about this album too. I'll have to give it another go, remember it was a pretty decent listen.

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