Search The Line of Best Fit
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Sophie Ellis-Bextor’s HANA is another reinvention for the early-aughts disco diva

Release date: 02 June 2023
Sophie Ellis-Bextor – HANA – Album Artwork
01 June 2023, 16:45 Written by Sam Franzini

After the breakout success of masterpiece single “Murder on the Dancefloor,” Sophie Ellis-Bextor released three more albums stretching into the early 2010s filled with fizzy dance-pop, but her past two records suggest a subtle shift.

2014’s Wanderlust and 2016’s Familia were darker chamber pop records that swapped out those nights on the dancefloor, but after a long hiatus, HANA combines what she’s done previously and even offers new twists on her style.

Inspired by a trip Ellis-Bextor took to Japan in early 2020, HANA translates to either ‘flower’ or ‘blossom’, and the album can be seen as somewhat of a new start. Songs take direct inspiration from the country, like the instrumentation on the opening track, or the ode to Tokyo later on (“Since I’ve been here, I’ve had such dreams”), but others inhabit a different mood. HANA is often lighter than her two last albums, taking the time to dream of margaritas, the sun warming one’s face, and fantasising about a languid man whose daydreaming makes him blissfully unavailable. “Oh, I’ll never see the world he knows,” she says dreamily.

Underneath the sunshine, though, there are some darker tones and ideas that are mostly unfamiliar with Ellis-Bextor’s sweet, easygoing demeanour – on “Breaking the Circle,” the lead single, she asks, “Do you want to hear a secret? / I think there might be a day where the sun doesn’t rise.” Sounding vaguely like she’s envisioning the start to a dystopian apocalypse novel, she tells a lover, “I can see a new horizon in your eyes.” In other places, she’s more down-to-earth in discussing problems – “Broken Toy” is about the dissolution of a relationship where she felt used, and the heartbreaking “Reflections” is a moment of self-examination where she stares into a mirror. “I’m just looking older, not stronger,” she admits.

Ellis-Bextor’s writing often leans towards the dramatic and quizzical – song titles in the past declare that “Love Is a Camera,” the “Earth Shook the Devil’s Hand,” and that “The Universe Is You” – which is in full abundance here. On another universe-themed track, “Beyond the Universe,” she describes love’s effect over a spacey beat: “Galaxies pass us by, all we can do is fly,” she sings. “Breaking the Circle” occupies the same space lyrically, though it’s a little less concrete: she and her lover “Crash through all of the edges of destiny” and break the aforementioned circle, though what that means is still unclear.

Her liminal writing works the best on “Hearing in Colour” and “We’ve Been Watching You,” two of the most sonically experimental songs on the record (and in Ellis-Bextor’s discography). The former is a frenzied, hallucinogenic trip lyrically (“I’m tasting tomorrow / A feverish dream”), whereas the latter starts normally and devolves into trippy electronic production. “Forget the things you’ve heard about us, we’re just a conscience of another kind,” she asks, seemingly shifting into a hive-mind persona of unknowable moral origin, before asking towards the end, “Have you quite lost your mind?” It's completely out of left field, and this kind of diversity in songwriting and sound leaves ample room for more experimentation in the future.

If you’re looking for a quick disco dopamine hit, HANA is not the album for you. Rather, it’s an update on Ellis-Bextor’s previous works, ideas, and themes – the seven-year hiatus proved to be more than enough time in order to come back to music refreshed and reinvigorated. HANA is a quirky and observant addition to the Ellis-Bextor discography, mixing dark and light themes to create one of her most intriguing works to date.

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