Without mentioning anyone, who comes to mind when New Zealand music is asked? Many will immediately think Split Enz
formerly known nowadays by the saner musical rendition, Crowded House
. However, NZ itself has produced some unknown hidden wonders through its fairly diminished global stance in all areas. One of these, is Bic Runga
. She was brought into an already very musical family; with each of her two sisters well nested within their own musical outlets. They each have had massive success in their homeland, but Bic has seen the most worldwide success, thanks to this debut. Most will have heard the international superhit “Sway”
, either if they’ve seen American Pie, or just suitably gathered it through radio airplay during 1998. But behind this one particular track, there’s an entire album.
Her sweet voice is what seems to complete most of the songs here. But unlike so many other sweet voices out there, which are sometimes found behind some poor uninspired instrumentation; part of this album’s success is thanks to Bic’s own talents as a multi-instrumentalist. She plays basically everything you hear, except for the well positioned string arrangements from Duncan Haynes. Occasionally, the equations get a little unattainable, depending on your own point of view, but every now and then the highly accentuated emotion within her voice with drag you back in for the ride, sometimes offering some new ideas. She croons, whispers, lip-smacks, and at times makes the interesting effect of the audible smile. The effects are clear within the opening moments in the title track “Drive”
, which is short, sweet and gentle.
She really could make an entire album from what’s offered in the first few instalments, but for Bic it seems, it’s not about releasing just the conventional contract adhering pop arrangements. She explores her personal limits with caution, influence, and individuality. Some of the album shows a distinctive desire to introduce interesting instrumental accompaniments such as the mellotron in a Beatles
like style during “Suddenly Strange”
, and syncopated bongo rhythms in “Roll Into One”
, other times she plays on the general acoustic pop spring board, producing a few clever melodies and lyrical ideas along the way. She strays off track in the later songs “Heal”
and again during “Without You”
, which delve into much darker territory reminiscent of PJ Harvey
during their time during the late 1990s. Clearly, some influence of these characters own personas have worn off on Bic, and probably some Alanis Morisette
as well while you’re there but you can’t really complain. This debut is beautifully sung, and wonderfully fun to listen to, especially considering the fact that it demonstrates the singular point where an artist wears a bit of themselves as well as their influences in text book fashion.