Album Review: Imogen Heap, “Speak For Yourself” (2005)

I hadn’t heard of Imogen Heap until I saw the movie, Garden State. It was then that I fell in love with the Londoner’s selection on the soundtrack- “Let Go”- which was actually a song from her band, Frou Frou.  I was instantly enthralled with the band’s ambient, sythnpop sound, and that song alone spurred me to purchase Heap’s sophomore album, Speak For Yourself.

Heap’s solo album explores the same sounds I heard in Frou Frou’s music- lots of airy sythensizers, tons of electronic blips and noises, and light vocals.  Though this works for the majority of the album, it does become a tad monotonous towards the latter half of the disc.
Headlock starts the disc off on a promising front.  The fast-paced song is composed of strings, noises from a vibraphone and an African instrument, the Mbira.  The complex orchestration plays behind Heap’s digitized vocals, and the song provides a perfect example of what to expect for the rest of the album.

Interestingly enough, Say Goodnight and Go follows with a more organic sound.  An acoustic guitar makes up most of the instrumentation, while drums are heard during parts of the choruses.  Of course, there are still a few synthesized sounds throughout the track, and Heap’s vocals take on the same echo-y effect as they did in the previous song, but this could definitely be classified as pure pop music, rather than some sort of pop/electronica hybrid.  The lyrics, though a bit cliched, are more memorable (“Why’d you have to be so cute?/It’s impossible to ignore you/Must you make me laugh so much?/It’s bad enough we get along so well/Say goodnight, and go…”), and overall, the track is one of the strongest on the album.

Chances are, you’ve heard Hide and Seek in one way or another.  The track has been nearly everywhere; it was famously featured on an episode of The O.C. (which was then heavily parodied on YouTube and Saturday Night Live), and in 2009, R&B singer, Jason Derulo sampled the song for his hit single, “Whatcha Say”.  Despite the prominence in the media, I’ve never grown tired of this song, mostly because it’s absolutely beautiful.  Again, the production is heavily stripped back, instead leaving more room for Heap’s acapella performance.  The song is mostly sung through a vocoder, giving off a haunting feeling, which perfectly highlights the emotional lyrics (“Ransom notes keep falling out your mouth/Mid-sweet talk, newspaper word cut-outs/Speak no feeling, no I don’t believe you/You don’t care a bit. You don’t care a bit.”). This song, as well as all of the others, has such an impressive, polished sound that it’s hard to believe that Heap recorded this disc (she also did all the writing and composing on the album) with her own funds and without help from a label.

Imogen Heap Coachella

Just For Now has one of the prettiest openings I’ve ever heard, as Heap uses several layers of her vocals to repeat the line, “just for now.”  The song, which expresses the sentiment of being in the moment, almost seems to slow down time while listening to it; the light drumming in the chorus, paired with Heap’s angelic vocals, are absolutely captivating, and it’s incredibly easy to get lost in this lovely song.   I Am In Love With You is easily the most unique song on the album- the atmospheric, dreamy sound from the rest of the tracks is put aside for a moment, and replaced by a funky beat that’s actuallydanceable.  Heap’s vocals are even different- her tone has dropped a few pitches, and we’re greeted with a throaty delivery of the verses- a stark contrast to the whimsical vocals we’ve heard from her on the majority of the album. Some of Heap’s trademark sounds are still in the background- there’s plenty of synthesizers throughout the track- but mostly, this song is a huge (and welcome) departure from the musical theme of the album.

Unfortunately, I can’t say that the rest of the album is as easy to differentiate.  I’ve owned this CD for seven or eight years, and sadly can’t tell you that any of the other songs have ever really stood out or impressed me.  Despite the peppiness of Loose Ends, the track still seems a bit stale in comparison to the highlights on the album.  Likewise, songs like Clear The Area and The Walk might be a bit more interesting if they were presented on a different album, separate from the handful of songs on this disc that already sound completely similar to them.   Closing In and Daylight Robbery are both misses, again, because they’re just simply too similar to the rest of the album to stand out on their own.  Though I do like the sound of the album, overall, my main complaint is that it’s just too repetitive; too many songs sound the same, and the whole sound becomes played about halfway through the disc.

The album closes with another song which fails to impress, The Moment I Said It.  The song begins quietly, with just Heap singing, before fading into more of the same synthesizers, blips and beeps that we’ve already heard.  The track is also the longest on the album, coming in at almost six minutes, and every bit of it drones on.  I’ve actually put this album on when I couldn’t sleep and if I hadn’t already dozed off at this point, this song usually puts me over the edge to sleepiness.

Though Imogen Heap’s ambient, synthpop sound works really well for her and is, for the most part, very enjoyable, it becomes a bit tiresome after listening to it track after track.  Speak For Yourself is a good album, but it wouldn’t have hurt to have a bit more versatility.

Rating: 3_stars.svg

Track Listing
1. Headlock
2. Goodnight And Go
3. Have You Got It In You?
4. Loose Ends
5. Hide And Seek
6. Clear The Area
7. Daylight Robbery
8. Walk
9. Just For Now
10. I Am In Love With You
11. Closing In
12. The Moment I Said It

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UYIAfiVGluk]
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