Sophie Ellis-Bextor

Trip the Light Fantastic

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A welcome return from one of the most sophisticated and distinctive voices in British dance-pop, Trip The Light Fantastic is easily Sophie Ellis-Bextor's most dynamic album to date. Markedly more consistent than its enjoyable-but-spotty predecessors, but also -- more importantly -- far more gutsy, varied and vital, its many strong points are the most exciting of her career. It had been four years since her previous album -- a considerable span in pop terms -- but Ellis-Bextor's music has always hearkened to smartly classicist, new wave-informed synth-disco, even in the days when the Pet Shop Boys were practically the sole remaining practitioners of the style, so it didn't require much alteration for her to sound right in step with eighties-resuscitation that was in full swing by 2007. Even so, she sounds dramatically reinvigorated here, with a notable infusion of rock guitars and often a forceful, even menacing, electro edge to the productions, both evident right out the gate in the strident, barnstorming first single "Catch You." The highlights follow fast and furious: the immaculate disco glide of "Me and My Imagination" (whose canny lyrics advise an overeager suitor to play harder to get), the robotic, strobing "New York City Lights," the Xenomania-esque, Emma Goldman-quoting stomp of "If I Can't Dance" (the actual Xenomania contribution, "If You Go," is nearly as good), and the lovely pop ballad "Today the Sun's on Us," Ellis-Bextor's entrant in the late-2000s "Time After Time"-homage sweepstakes. Amazingly, despite that practically flawless opening sequence, the latter half of the album is nearly as strong, boasting the bouncy, fun-loving pop of "Love Is Here" and the twitchy electro of "China Heart," while the brashly optimistic disco-schmaltz apotheosis "Only One" stands as the album's most triumphantly over the top, life-affirming moment. In a banner year for British, female-fronted electronic chart pop, which saw excellent albums by Sugababes, Girls Aloud, Róisín Murphy, Siobhan Donaghy, Tracey Thorn, and Kylie Minogue, among others, Ellis-Bextor more than held her own with a classy, romantic, and, above all, tremendously enjoyable record that stands as a shining example of the state of the art.

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