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"Make A Scene"

Sophie Ellis-Bextor – Make A Scene
09 June 2011, 10:27 Written by Matthew Horton
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It only takes 40 seconds for Sophie Ellis-Bextor to mention ‘Murder On The Dancefloor’, her signature solo hit. The namecheck comes in ‘Revolution”s first bridge and encapsulates the Real Posh Spice’s ongoing problem: where do you go from there? Any popstar wants an iconic – if divisive – hit in their back pocket, but you know, how many times can you catch lightning in a bottle? Make A Scene is Ellis-Bextor’s fourth studio album and who’s been humming the intervening semi-hits? It’s the kind of stasis that needs a jolt. Luckily, our Soph has a two-fold plan.

Part one is a blow for autonomy: Universal oversaw an oddly early Russian release for Make A Scene, but everything else is being handled by Ellis-Bextor’s own imprint, the drolly named EBGB’s. Part two is nearly the reverse of this seizure of control: a grab-bag of impeccable dance-pop collaborators to shape E-B into a resurgent hit machine. Songwriting gun-for-hire Cathy Dennis is in there, as is the dilettante’s dilettante Calvin Harris, along with Freemasons, Lily Allen producer and Bird And The Bee’s Bee Greg Kurstin, Richard X (remember the early Noughties?), Metronomy and even Ed Harcourt. It’s one serious hotch-potch, but surely contains at least the potential for alchemy.

Make A Scene reputedly emerged from sessions for new tracks for an aborted Greatest Hits, which explains the surfeit of stagehands. So the Pet Shop Boysy hi-NRG of ‘Heartbreak (Make Me A Dancer)’ is a now rather grizzled 2009 hook-up with Freemasons; ‘Can’t Fight This Feeling’ an 18-month-old slab of fader disco made alongside Junior Caldera; ‘Not Giving Up On Love’ some Armin van Buuren-formed trance pop from last summer. But the album’s protracted gestation doesn’t make it disjointed. Make A Scene is pretty much of a piece, explicitly aimed at the dancefloor and breathless to the (almost) finish.

Some songs aren’t great – apart from a squirt of dirty synth, the Richard X production ‘Magic’ is wholly unremarkable, while the full-throttle ‘Under Your Touch’ is all speed no tune and ‘Off & On’, penned by the formidable team of Harris, Dennis and Roísín Murphy, has bounce but little sparkle – but even the most faceless Europop is saved from a bad case of the Cascadas by Ellis-Bextor’s haughty tones. Yes, that voice. As ever, according to which side of the tracks you hark from, it’s either prim schoolmarm or seductive ice queen. Depends on your perversion.

Whatever, it’s a great voice for a popstar; she has personality, and really lets it show on the final pair of tracks where a frantic pace finally lets up. ‘Synchronised’ mixes Depeche Mode synths and an Abbaesque chiming melody to create something that sounds like La Roux if she had a heart. The way the chorus ends hanging is beautiful. Closer ‘Cut Straight To The Heart’, co-written and produced by Harcourt, moves from dense Peter Gabriel ‘In Your Eyes’ piano strokes to a frosty ballad, somewhere in the region of A-ha. Along with the single ‘Bittersweet’ and Metronomy’s nuts Human-League-get-their-glitch-on title track, these are the most striking songs here, giving belated notice of Ellis-Bextor’s versatility and crowning a fairly decent pop record. It could do with cuts – 14 tracks is way over spec – but, a decade after ‘Murder…’ the head girl still hasn’t, um, killed the groove.

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