Alison Moyet has recently released her latest album, the minutes. Photo: Tom Martin
It was wonderful news when Alison Moyet announced she was going to release a new album (the minutes) this year, and an even bigger surprise when it charted so highly in the UK charts (at Number Five, her second-highest-charting studio album there since 1987’s Raindancing to be precise)—a remarkable feat for any artist, especially one who hasn’t released new material in seven years and more specifically—in what remains a sexist industry—a woman. First came the staggeringly brilliant giveaway track, “Changeling,” which highlights her collaboration—in the truest sense of the word—with electronic maestro Guy Sigsworth (Madonna, Björk), and signaled an electronic return to her earlier work with Vince Clarke as one half of synth pop’s legendary Yazoo/Yaz. This was followed by the first, proper single, the subtly layered jewel, “When I Was Your Girl.” Not convinced? Google her recent live performance of it on Graham Norton’s show and listen to not only her diction and enunciation—missing from so much of today’s pop—but witness how a true singer truly sings.
I am surprised to learn in our chat that singles really don’t mean that much to her, but nonetheless her new one is “Love Reign Supreme,” which oozes with wisdom and wit—which we discuss at length later when reviewing her under-appreciated lyric writing—that remarkably is matched by its catchiness. More important overall than these individual tracks is her stunning new album from which they originate, which is as much a revelation in sound as it is another showcase for her uniquely mesmerizing vocal instrument. This is an album begging to be heard with your headphones on and one that, refreshingly, doesn’t “feature” any other vocalist or guest on it, and whose cinematic scope sounds unlike anything released as of late. Ever the vibrant-canvased vocal painter, Moyet (who recently turned 52) sounds absolutely incredible on it—from the chugging disco thumper “Right As Rain” to the more refined and deliciously quieter tracks like “Remind Yourself” and especially the stunners like “A Place To Stay” and the lullaby “Filigree,” which help close the album. It shows that time hasn’t diminished her pipes, but, rather, just the opposite.
SLUG recently had the pleasure of chatting with this musical idol, who was candid and frank, hilarious and refreshingly forthcoming about her punk past, her paring down of useless possessions, her new album and label, her creative process, the current un-nurturing music industry (with its over-reaching divas and idiotic executives who inform her she should be making covers albums—an insult that surely Springsteen and Dylan never hear), and why her recent chart and critical success is such a victory. Literally minutes before I am connected to her in the UK, I receive an Erasure Information Service e-mail that informs me that it was Vince Clarke’s birthday, which I take as a good omen that the interview will bode well, and we both wish Mr. Clarke many happy returns and begin.
SLUG: I can’t stop listening to the minutes, and it sounds unlike anything in your solo canon and really vibrant. It seems rare to want to listen to an album from start to finish these days, let alone just a “single” or “certain” track, and congratulations on that and then congratulations on the chart success, especially in the UK. That must have been really gratifying!
Moyet: Well, you know, it really was gratifying. I’ve been offered plenty of “deals,” but all to make “covers” albums, and they’re all very leery about wanting, you know, someone of my age to do new material, because it’s hard to sell it, and they imagine you’re going to not have any kind of creative ideas. I’ve wanted to work with an electronic backdrop for a long time, but it really was a case of finding the right person. The joy of working with someone like Vince was that he was, or he is, melodically minded. The song always keeps its integrity. So, the song is written first and the track is built up around it, which was the way that we worked in Yaz. And that’s not dissimilar to how I worked with this album with Guy. We knew that we wanted strong songs—and electronic—but we didn’t want the beat to be “king” almost … it’s like one of the problems I had with music in the ’90s—techno/technical music in the ’90s—was the fact that the beat was so revered that they would de-tune the voice, they would crunch it, so that it was such an ugly entity that you would just wish that there was no voice on there at all. One of the great things about working with Guy is that he not only is this great sonic inventor, but he also is musically really, really adept. He started off as a Cambridge University harpsichordist, so his musicality is sublime … and so it really could be approached not only from an experimental point of view, but from a true musical point of view. And it meant that, for example, I would either send him a song or he might send me a loop—for example, “Changeling.” He sent me a single loop, which I then extended and wrote three sections on and created the song from that. I then sent it back to him, he strips away the loop, and then builds up and rewrites completely around the song I’ve written to that, so you end up with “songs,” truly.