On her fourth solo album, Essex, named after her home county, Alison Moyet continues to search for valid alternatives to her natural gifts. A singer with a remarkably forceful voice and emotional delivery, she had succeeded both as a jazz and blues interpreter and when her singing was inventively contrasted with Vince Clarke's synthesizer tracks in Yaz. While her solo work at first showed promise of combining those styles with contemporary Brit-pop and produced some hits, by this point she is struggling to sound distinctive against the overeager production style of Ian Broudie, whose work is somewhat offset by the more sedate tracks produced by Pete Glenister. "Whispering Your Name," the first single, written by Jules Shear, with a lyric intended to be sung by one man to another, sounds curious coming out of Moyet's mouth, but at least the words are about something definite, which is more than you can say for Moyet's own elliptical expressions of anger and romantic discord. Musically, the album veers from the Revolver-era Beatles sound of the second single, "Falling," to the Motown rhythm of "So Am I" and an unnecessary remake of Yaz's "Ode to Boy" arranged to sound like "Pinball Wizard." The best song, the Glenister-produced ballad "Satellite," is buried in the middle of the record -- what makes it the best is that the arrangement actually allows Moyet the space to sing and to be as moving as she can be.
by William Ruhlmann