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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Stowaway Awards 2017

Finally! We kick Awards Season off in earnest with the Important Announcement of the winners of the 2017 Stowaways.

Best Track

Winner: Jean-Michel Jarre with Pet Shop Boys, for Brick England.

Best Album

These were the nominees:

  • The Avalanches – Wildflower
  • David Bowie – Blackstar
  • Clarke Hartnoll – 2Square
  • C Duncan – The Midnight Sun
  • I Monster – Bright Sparks
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  • Pet Shop Boys – Super
  • Shit Robot – What Follows
  • Yello – Toy

Winner: Jean-Michel Jarre, who had a particularly good year and stood a better chance of winning than most, with Oxygène 3.

Best Reissue / Compilation

The nominees:

  • Air – Twentyears
  • Cicero – Future Boy
  • The Human League – Anthology – A Very British Synthesizer Group
  • New Order – Complete Music
  • Dusty Springfield – Reputation

Winner: The Human League

Best Artist

Winner: Jean-Michel Jarre

Best Live Act

Winner: Pet Shop Boys

Best Ambient Track

Nominated were:

  • Air – Adis Abebah
  • Delerium – Ghost Requiem
  • Enigma – Sadeness (Part II)
  • I Monster – Alan R Pearlman and the ARPiological exploration of the cosmos
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)

Winner: Delerium, for Ghost Requiem

Best Dance Act / Remixer

Potential winners included:

  • The Avalanches
  • Clarke Hartnoll
  • Stuart Price
  • Röyksopp
  • Shit Robot

Winner: Shit Robot

Best Newcomer

Winner: C Duncan

Innovation Award

Winner: Jean-Michel Jarre

Outstanding Contribution

Could have been any of the following:

  • David Bowie
  • Vince Clarke
  • Delerium
  • Enigma
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

Winner: Delerium

That’s an unprecedented four out of ten for Jean-Michel Jarre. All being well, we’ll do the BRIT and Grammy Awards over the next couple of weeks.

Stowaway Awards 2017 – Nominations

Now for the moment that you have, of course, all been waiting for: the announcement of the nominees for the 2017 Stowaway Awards. As always in recent years, there will be exactly ten awards, one of which (Best Track) you know already from the countdown a couple of weeks ago. Here are five more key nominations!

Best Album

  • The Avalanches – Wildflower
  • David Bowie – Blackstar
  • Clarke Hartnoll – 2Square
  • C Duncan – The Midnight Sun
  • I Monster – Bright Sparks
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Electronica 2: The Heart of Noise
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène 3
  • Pet Shop Boys – Super
  • Shit Robot – What Follows
  • Yello – Toy

Best Reissue / Compilation

  • Air – Twentyears
  • Cicero – Future Boy
  • The Human League – Anthology – A Very British Synthesizer Group
  • New Order – Complete Music
  • Dusty Springfield – Reputation

Best Ambient Track

  • Air – Adis Abebah
  • Delerium – Ghost Requiem
  • Enigma – Sadeness (Part II)
  • I Monster – Alan R Pearlman and the ARPiological exploration of the cosmos
  • Jean-Michel Jarre – Oxygène (Part 17)

Best Dance Act / Remixer

  • The Avalanches
  • Clarke Hartnoll
  • Stuart Price
  • Röyksopp
  • Shit Robot

Outstanding Contribution

  • David Bowie
  • Vince Clarke
  • Delerium
  • Enigma
  • Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark

Greatest Hits – Vol. 9

Every so often when things are quiet, I like to take a bit of a breather and highlight some of the reviews you might have missed in recent times. Here’s another selection:

  • The Avalanches – Since I Left You
  • Camouflage – Spice Crackers
  • Enigma – MCMXC a.D.
  • Goldfrapp – Felt Mountain
  • Gotan Project – Lunático
  • Kraftwerk – Autobahn
  • Pet Shop Boys – Please
  • Sparks – Hello Young Lovers
  • Yello – Baby
  • Various Artists – Metropolis

Read and enjoy!

Enigma – Le Roi est Mort, Vive le Roi!

By 1996, Michael Cretu‘s Enigma project was well established, and was nearing the end of the trilogy that he initially intended. From humble and monastic beginnings, to his mid-1990s human era, and whatever was going to come next.

His third album Le Roi est Mort, Vive le Roi! was released two decades ago this week, and represented something of a change of direction. Primarily, we’re spared a repetition of the opening from both MCMXC a.D. and The Cross of Changes, instead getting a science fiction opener about a biosphere, or something.

Morphing Thru Time, despite the ill-advised spelling, is a beautiful piece of music. You do get the feeling it’s supposed to be timeless, with its combination of choral pieces and samples, and for once Cretu’s rasping rock vocal does actually seem to fit.

The miniature third track, clocking in at just nineteen seconds, is where things get a bit confusing. It’s called Third of Its Kind, and features just the spoken lyrics “The first is the father, the second is the mother, and the third is the child.” Which is surely religious nonsense, sexist and offensive, or just plain wrong, depending on your perspective.

Opening single Beyond the Invisible is next, with Cretu’s then-wife Sandra turning up to deliver a great vocal on a truly magical track. The video which accompanied it is a sight to behold as well. It mixes into the confusingly titled Why!… (which seems to use every form of punctuation except for the right one), a dramatic but very good track. This is the single that amusingly announces, in red, “on this record there are no remixes that violate the original song.” You would almost think that Cretu was trying to make some kind of point.

Just before the halfway point, we get the adorable Shadows in Silence, a melodic and ethereal instrumental which might have benefitted from a lengthy extended version on the back of one of the singles – you can easily see how this might have been drawn out to ten minutes or so without too much pain.

Unusual for the mid-1990s, there was no vinyl release of this album (although there was a cassette, so it would be interesting to know what happened midway through), so sixth and seventh tracks can just merge into one another. The Child in Us, with its intriguing foreign language vocal, is another beautiful moment, although this time Cretu’s own vocal delivery towards the end is a bit out of character.

Arguably the most notable thing about Le Roi est Mort, Vive le Roi! though, is not the music, but the artwork, with its curious images of people with funny hats, printed on translucent material so the whole booklet merges together – it’s really quite intriguing.

Second single T.N.T. for the Brain comes next, with another vocal from Sandra. You get the sense slightly here that this wasn’t quite the sound that Cretu was going for – if this album is supposed to be the futurist one of the series, then surely he would have aimed for something much darker sounding. It’s not a criticism – for me, this album is still far and away his finest hour – but it does feel as though he didn’t quite meet his own intentions.

The spiritual instrumental Almost Full Moon follows, perhaps one of the closest tracks in sound to the Enigma we knew on the preceding two albums, and then the rumoured but unreleased third single The Roundabout, which, despite mainly being made of the lyrics “ah-yay, ah-yah,” is a very competent piece of music.

Closing the album – for the most part, at least – is a gentle choral piece, Prism of Life, which brings some of the threads together nicely. Others seem to have been left hanging – if this release was intended to have a strong overriding theme, I’d suggest it was a little confused. But if you take it purely on face value, and enjoy it for what it is, there’s some extremely good music on here.

I would always argue that Enigma‘s repetitive intro and outro pieces are a little too much for me, although hearing the intro backwards for Odyssey of the Mind is quite pleasing. This album may leave you with a few reservations, but if you close your eyes and enjoy it, it’s one of the best chillout albums that has ever appeared.

You can still find the original release of this album at all major retailers, with its rather wonderful booklet.

Preview – Enigma

Well, Enigma are (is?) back after a bit of a break, with the sequel to 1990s Sadeness (Part I), and this time it’s very saucy. Honestly I really wanted to like it – the original is exceptionally good, but this is a bit of a mess. Still, the new album The Fall of a Rebel Angel comes out this week, and maybe there are some hidden gems on there, such as a sequel to Return to Innocence. For now, here’s Sadeness (Part II).

Looking back at 2015

As always, we started the year with some bold predictions about what 2015 might hold. Let’s see how accurate they actually were!

January

We jumped into the New Year by marking post number 909, just because…

February

We finally finished our comprehensive history of the BRIT Awards! You can read the Complete Guide here.

March

March saw us revisit the archives of this blog and everything that came before it, with reviews of Depeche ModeEnigmaErasure, and others.

April

In April, we celebrated the 1000th post on this blog. Awesome. Quantity rulez.

May

May saw exciting new releases from Jean-Michel JarreHot Chip and Leftfield – which is a lot to fit into one month.

June

June saw us rolling back to the early 1980s, and reviewing a-ha and OMD.

July

As the official UK charts officially moved to Fridays, we celebrated our third anniversary and gave up on Sunday posting (probably for the sabbath, or something).

August

August for stowaways saw reviews of oldies from Goldfrapp and Dubstar!

September

September finally saw the last installment (for now) of our Beginner’s guide series. Collect the full set here!

October

October this year saw us counting down to the Q Awards and the Mercury Prize!

November

November saw the introduction of a brand new feature on this blog, Vinyl Moments – which hopefully will be back soon!

December

Sees us celebrating the Christmas and New Year period yet again. As the Germans say, have a good slide into 2016!