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Music Review

Book Cover

Beautiful Mess


Artist: Swing Out Sister
RRP: £10.99
Available 08 September 2008

A chance meeting at Manchester’s now legendary Hacienda club brought Andy Connell and Corinne Drewery together. Andy had proved his musical capabilities with Factory Records’ A Certain Ratio, while Corinne, after graduating from St. Martin’s School of Art in London, found her musical interests had eclipsed her fashion career.

Along with ex-Magazine drummer Martin Jackson they combined their diverse influences to produce a series of demos which attracted the attention of several major labels, including Phonogram, who eventually signed the band. Once Swing Out Sister was formed in 1985, a long-term working relationship with producer Paul Staveley O’Duffy was established, which was to define the future sound of the group. Their unique blend of cinematic jazz pop earned them several chart singles, including 'Breakout', a UK No.4 Hit, 'Surrender' and 'Twilight World', resulting in their 1987 debut album, It’s Better To Travel hitting the number one spot in the UK album charts.

Success followed throughout Europe, America and the Far East. In 1988, Swing Out Sister were nominated for two Grammy Awards including ‘Best New Artist’ and ‘Best Pop Vocal Performance by a Group or Duo’ for 'Breakout'. Eight studio albums, two live albums and over a decade of live shows have gained Swing Out Sister international success, along with themes and scores for television and Andy’s composition for short films.

After sell-out dates of Japan, the USA and the UK in 2005, Andy and Corinne returned to their East London studio to write and record their next album. In March 2008, the band first released the Beautiful Mess album in Asia, and completed a successful tour of Japan and the Philippines that culminated in a sell-out concert at the Areneta Coliseum stadium Manila. Six months after the album's Japanese launch, Beautiful Mess is finally available to UK fans.

Beautiful Mess is Swing Out Sister's ninth studio album and has a much more intimate, jazzy feel to it. Corinne Drewery’s voice is as memorable as ever, and has a more mature timbre - she also seems to have been stuck in some sort of strange time warp, as she hasn't aged a day since the group's height of fame in the mid-to-late '80s.

Andy Connell’s unusually restrained, rhythm-heavy backdrop, is interwoven with the bands signature string and vocal arrangements featuring Gina Foster. Foster also collaborated on the writing of three of this album's tracks: 'Something Every Day', 'Butterfly' and 'My State of Mind'.

Swing Out Sister celebrate the eclectic cultural mix of the UK’s constantly changing music scene, with a sound that owes as much to hip-hop and jazz fusion as sixties pop and soul, with its well crafted arrangements and a hint of electro along the way. But in essence, this is a chill out album for those that remember the band's early years.

The album opens with 'Something Every Day', personally not one of my favourite tracks on the album, but it gets everything off on the right foot. Next up we have 'Time Tracks You Down' and we're on familiar ground - this feels like a Swing Out Sister track, and took me back to the '80s (in a good way).

I almost expected Barry White to start singing as 'Butterfly' opened. Thankfully he doesn't, and this track shows off Drewery's voice at its best. This is followed by 'My State of Mind' and we're into lounge music territory (of the best kind) as the music forces you to kick off your shoes and lay back.

'I'd be Happy' has a distinct Motown feel to it - in fact there's a very obvious Supremes flavour to it. At the half-way mark we get an interesting intermission. The instrumental 'Butterfly Lullaby' has touches of the band's old style - in particular the opening is very reminiscent of their 1994 'La La Means I Love You', and is a relaxing way to break up the album.

'Secret Love (You're Invisible)' is easily the album's standout mainstream single. The title track, 'Beautiful Mess', again like 'I'd Be Happy' has a flavour of a decade long since passed. The final two tracks are interesting we get 'Butterfly' and 'Something Every Day', both of which are Little Wizard Mixes.

The end result is something that will appeal to both the band's loyal fan base as well as being fresh enough to attract a new generation of followers.


Nick Smithson

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