How has Alison “Alf” Moyet become one of the UK’s most underappreciated artists? At a time when her spiritual descendant, Adele, dominates global album sales, the former Yazoo vocal powerhouse has struggled to find a record label that doesn’t demand a set of Etta James cover versions for her next album. The ever-likeable and honest Moyet would probably happily take some of the blame for her spell in the cultural wilderness. By her own admission, she has suffered from crippling anxieties and made some questionable creative choices. Her 1985 cover of “That Ole Devil Called Love” may have been her biggest hit, but Moyet isn’t even a jazz fan. Rather unfairly she’s become known as a reliable purveyor of safe, sanitised blue-eyed soul when, in truth, the childhood buddy of most of Depeche Mode and collaborator with Wilko Johnson, is a rather more restless, adventurous soul.
Kudos then to Cooking Vinyl for releasing the minutes, Moyet’s eighth solo album and, by some considerable margin, her best. Key to its success is Moyet’s producer, Guy Sigsworth, who has worked with Bjork and Madonna, and who shares Moyet’s desire to ruffle the hair of orthodox song structures.
Album opener “Horizon Flame” is a gentle signifier of what to expect: The Eastern-flavored intro gives away to delicate, skittish dubstep beat patterns swathed in plump clouds of synthesizer. Lead single “When I Was Your Girl” doesn’t even manage a curt nod in the direction of modernity, with its big, chunky frame and bold ’80s-friendly chorus. But gradually, Moyet and Sigsworth’s pioneering ethos takes hold. “Apple Kisses” is as light and lovely as its title suggests, little flecks of electronica playfully skirting its edges, while “Right as Rain” majors on big, fat squelchy synths. All the while Moyet refuses to give full rein to her mammoth voice, understanding fully that vocal power is more effective when hinted at rather than let loose.
The second half of the minutes is when things get really interesting. “Remind Yourself” is part Massive Attack with a big dollop of Scott Walker; on “All Signs Of Life” sudden squalls of ravey electronica punctuate what might otherwise have been a gentle Moyet ballad. But ‘Filigree’ is the real landmark track. It’s a distant cousin to Yazoo’s “Only You,” a lush cocoon of melody-drenched emotional electronica. It’s the most beauty-laden song on an album slathered in loveliness. Alf is back — and how.