Most quality trip-hop vocal acts feature cagey singers who couldn't care less about using their sensuality to sell records -- the norm is either extreme publicity shyness (Portishead's Beth Gibbons, Lamb's Louise Rhodes) or playing up their sensuality for ironic or sarcastic effect (Róisín Murphy, Björk). And usually, the groups with no such reservations exist on the Buddha-Bar fringe that rarely produces much in the way of quality music. Bitter:Sweet are a different proposition, however. Immaculately self-produced by the duo itself (and boasting a full complement of musician support), Drama is a most sweet and seductive record. Obviously, vocalist Shana Halligan is the reason for most of the sensuality; she has a knack for double-entendre lyrics, whether she's in club mode ("Let's have a dance, while our souls get undressed") or delivering what's supposed to be an emotional ballad ("What did I do to undress all the beauty that surrounds me"). The lyrics and songwriting aren't top-notch -- "Sugar Mama" is too clever by half -- but everything else on tap delivers quite well. Musically, while there's a certain degree of programming here, and the album appears on the groove-friendly Quango label, this isn't strictly a dance record. A wide array of fusion is the name of the game, mostly Latin or French and including salsa-fied pianos, tango basslines, and the occasional accordion flourish. The band is large at three dozen members, and is conducted and produced extremely well. (Extra credit beyond Bitter:Sweet themselves likely goes to Halligan's father, Dick Halligan, a member of Blood, Sweat & Tears who arranged some of BS&T's best material.) A few songs have a widescreen cinematic quality that would make them naturals for the James Bond treatment. For those who like their dance records organic, or their organic records danceable, and don't appreciate (or understand) the difficult vocalists behind some of the best trip-hop vocal acts, Bitter:Sweet are the answer.
AllMusic Review by John Bush