Olive – Extra Virgin

History – and probably a lot of the people reading this now – will remember Olive as a one-hit wonder. They brought us the fantastic You’re Not Alone in 1997, got to number one, and then faded away into obscurity.

Unfortunately, none of that is entirely true, and history has definitely dealt them a raw deal. The trio finally managed that number one on the song’s second release, and follow-up Miracle never even managed the upper reaches of the charts, despite coming out on three separate occasions and being, frankly, brilliant.

It’s Miracle that opens the album, in a slightly more subdued, seven-minute form, and it really is the massive hit that never was. Maybe the timing was wrong, or perhaps everybody had already had enough of Olive by the time this came out for the last time in late 1997, but it does feel like a great shame that this wasn’t more of a success than it was.

This Time comes next, a softer, more laid back piece. If you haven’t already, it will be around this time that you reach the inevitable realisation that singer Ruth-Ann Boyle is a truly excellent vocalist, and a couple of years later would lend a hand on Enigma‘s fourth and fifth albums before working on him with her solo album What About Us in 2003.

Chilled is definitely the mood here, but with some pleasant dub and slightly trippy influences from time to time as well, and so Safer Hands was hardly likely to break any particular boundaries, but it’s good nonetheless. Then Killing is strange in a way, both excellent and also very repetitive – there’s only one vocal line the whole way through, but accompanied by a whole lot of dub reverb and effects, it’s rather brilliant too.

After which it’s finally time for You’re Not Alone. Make no mistake, the singles are the best things on this album, but there is more than just one. Of course, if you bought this album wanting just thirteen renditions of that one song, you would inevitably be disappointed – you might even be disappointed that this one isn’t quite as lively as the single was, as the drums, much of the energy in this track, don’t actually turn up until nearly two minutes in.

But it’s still a fantastic song, and the album version is every bit as good as the single you remember, just in a slightly different way. This more spacious version allows you to appreciate Ruth-Ann’s vocals a lot more, and to really get to the bottom of just how great this song actually is. Twenty years old, and it really doesn’t sound it.

Falling is one of the stronger album tracks, a sweet and understated love song, which carries us through to the third single Outlaw. This one was only released once, as the follow-up to You’re Not Alone when that had finally reached the top of the charts, and apart from that, this is probably the most contemporary track on here, with its trippy drum and bass rhythm and catchy vocals.

There is also, despite the descriptions here, plenty of variety. Not in an in-your-face way, but the gentle trip-pop of Blood Red Tears is followed by the harder (but still soft) drum and bass of Curious. Then You Are Nothing is pure pop – and probably would have been the fourth single, if they hadn’t been concentrating so hard on trying to turn the same couple of tracks into hits again and again.

That just leaves two tracks – Muted, a trippy instrumental, and I Don’t Think So, a great little song driven by acoustic guitar. The lyrics are brilliant – love the life you lead, just lead the life you love? I don’t think so. It’s an excellent way to close the album.

Well, not quite – if you leave it playing for a few minutes, you get the accompanying version of You’re Not Alone to the single – this time, all the drums have been removed to create something rather ethereal and wonderful.

Twenty years on, Extra Virgin still sounds fantastic, and it’s a shame that history only leaves us with this, and its song-laden follow-up Trickle (which never even saw a proper release in the UK). But if you can find it, Extra Virgin is still worth a listen. Even if the title is a little on the silly side.

There are a number of versions of Extra Virgin available – the original release, which features a different version of Outlaw, a double CD release, and the Extra Virgin+ reissue which came out later. That’s probably the one to go for, although it omits the bonus track.

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