1. Birth of an Empire
2. Until the Stars Collide
3. Runaway Daydreamer
4. The Deer and the Wolf
5. Young Blood
7. 13 Little Dolls
8. Wrong Side of the Sun
9. Love is a Camera
10. Cry to the Beat of the Band
11. When the Storm Has Blown Over
Running time: 40:56
Wanderlust is the fourth studio album from pop singer Sophie Ellis-Bextor, most known for her dance pop hits “Murder on the Dancefloor” and “Take Me Home,” among others. Those are some pretty good songs; she has a history of decent singles, but she's never been an artist who produces much in the way of quality albums. Over the last decade her standing in the pop world has diminished record by record to the point that Ellis-Bextor has faded into obscurity. In the run up to Christmas, Ellis-Bextor appeared on Strictly Come Dancing (the UK's answer to Dancing with the Stars) and as such you would be forgiven for thinking this album was looking to cash in on her sudden reappearance into the limelight. But you would be wrong. Gone are the frilly 80s disco pop tracks. Wanderlust is a phenomenal pop record.
“Birth of an Empire” opens up the album with spectacular grandeur, a thundering orchestral backdrop. An enchanting string section provides the back drop for Ellis-Bextor sultry vocal as she sings, “Always close to life / More victorious / Can you feel this empire being born?” I don't know about an empire, but it's the re-birth of a once disposable pop starlet, now blossoming into a woman. A mother of three and in her mid-thirties, Ellis-Bextor has learned a thing or two over the last decade and she's finally showcasing her potential, completely exploding out of her shell. The opening track closes in that same grand fashion and delights with a final belting chorus.
“Until the Stars Collide” and “Love is a Camera” feature similarly mammoth crescendos. Some of these songs are far and away the most ambitious and far-reaching that Ellis-Bextor has ever produced and more often than not the results are spectacular. Her often-dreamy vocal provides the perfect balance for these soundscapes created by herself and producer Ed Harcourt. There's staggering orchestral moments and in many instances a distinct Eastern European influence on these recordings. Gone are the disco leanings her fans will have come accustomed to, replaced by all sorts of rock and folk instances. Some of these were marginally present on her previous album, but Ellis-Bextor at the point was still to busy chasing pop hits with cringeworthy collaborators to worry about musical credibility.
Even the poppier moments of conventional lead single “Young Bloods” and “Wrong Side of the Sun” have enough charm about them that they can exist on mainstream radio without the music snobs turning their noses up – it's like a less biting early Lily Allen sound with subtle hints of Russian folk thrown in for good measure. The album reaches its creative peak somewhere between the full blown choir “Cry to the Beast of the Band” and the vivid album-closer “When the Storm Has Blown Over.” The latter is beautifully tender it completely catches you off guard having been proceeded by an album awash with these magnificent soundscapes and the dramatic ebbing and flowing of a wondrous voice. Technically her vocal is limited, but its emotional impact isn't to be underestimated, and that's never more evident than on the album-closer. It's a charming ballad takes the mind to the poetic wanderings of Cohen and the like. Wanderlust is certainly an apt title for the album as Ellis-Bextor goes to places she's never been before. But it all sounds genuine, she's taken a journey to discover her own sound, and it sounds as though this has been waiting to come out for a long, long time.
Partial credit probably has to be given to the production of producer and co-writer Ed Harcourt, a veteran singer-songwriter who knows a thing or two about folk music. The two are long time family friends, or so I'm told, and together they've made a collection of wonderfully well-written pop songs that range from elegant and gorgeous to dark and menacing. The common denominator is a succinct and occasionally scathing vocal that charms with ease. For Harcourt, it's a production credit he can be proud of. Whether Ellis-Bextor was searching for a more credible record or not, she's certainly found one and though it may not perform spectacularly on the charts, it's not as if she had anything to lose anyway. She'd be much better off continuing down this route, and as long as she has the right people working with her, she can only get better and better from here.
“Young Blood” - Sophie Ellis-Bextor
The 411: Don't think of Wanderlust as the fourth album from disco pop star Sophie Ellis-Bextor, think of it as the debut album from singer-songwriter Sophie Ellis-Bextor. Wanderlust ranges from the romantically placid and sugary sweetness of a classic animated Disney tale to the shockingly ambitious melting pot of rock, folk and vintage pop influences. Much like the seven dwarves, we are swept off our feet and completely taken in by the charms of this particular Snow White, we're captivated by the seismic shift in her sound but kept intrigued all the way through but what can only be described as a captivating vocal performance. The flawless piano work of producer Harcourt adds some many cinematic flourishes we almost picture ourselves in an all-too-perfect Hollywood romantic comedy. If you have a penchant for a happy ending, Wanderlust is one of those pieces of art you'll be able to enjoy again and again. From neither the fierce pop mega-powers or the underground indie pop sensations will you find as complete a pop album as this, any time in the recent past or likely the near future.