Review Summary: Imogen Heap continues her dazzling blend of electronics and off-kilter pop, only this time the results come in a decidedly mixed bag.
There was a moment after ‘Propeller Seeds’ closed out Imogen Heap’s fourth album, Sparks
, that I almost thought I was back in 2005. The sheer poeticism of the track left me dumbfounded and wanting more, while the keen delivery and knowing vocal inflections harkened back to the lauded Speak For Yourself
. It was like being dropped inside of a reverse time capsule, and I didn’t know how to respond besides to replay the entire album. Click, play, repeat.
I must have listened twenty times in hopes that the rest of the album would catch up, but Sparks
’ fragmented nature never truly crystallized. I discovered other gems along the way – the dark and foreboding ‘Neglected Space’ sent shivers down my spine while the hopeful vibrancy of ‘The Listening Chair’ lifted my spirits – but it was also at this point that I realized the disappointing truth. Like ‘Propeller Seeds’, those songs were merely islands.
, it almost seems as though Imogen Heap is hoping
to stumble upon brilliance as opposed to having a vision and forthrightly realizing it through her music. It’s all very counter to her nature, because Imogen Heap has never really crafted a record before that didn’t sound one hundred percent poised and collected. It doesn’t help that the album is a little overlong either, totaling fourteen tracks. A lot of the styles attempted across that massive span simply fall flat, from the tepid opener ‘You Know Where to Find Me’ to a collaboration with deadmau5 that does little to incite any interest or curiosity. Perhaps I’m coming down a little too hard on Imogen at this moment, because branching out is an admirable trait – but the experimentation all feels a little clunky and flat-footed, as if someone was twisting her arm to do these things. Imogen Heap is at her best when she sings from her heart, and unfortunately a great deal of Sparks
is instead comprised of her attempting to live up to some intangible reputation as a connoisseur of electro-pop.
There are definitely moments when Imogen Heap appears to let go and just write music. That’s what we see in the aforementioned ‘Propeller Seeds’ – a simple, genuine love song expressing uncertainty about the future (“…where does this story go / what does this story know) while shrouding it in optimism (“wedding rings, children…rickshaw, disco – goodnight kiss”). It’s analogous to her greatest hit to date, ‘Hide and Seek’, because it just delivers a message front and center. The added frills in a lot of her other songs do little to further Sparks
along, they just attempt to embellish flaws by applying makeup. When Imogen Heap strips things down, she is capable of producing brilliant electronically-influenced pop.
is a record akin to its name. Speak For Yourself
were ablaze with passion, insight, and creativity. This certainly has its flashes of genius, but it’s all too often lost in moments of meandering creativity - sparks amidst a dying flame. Imogen has sort of a multilateral reach going on into different genres – which would be fine – but these vastly differing ideas never really coalesce into anything meaningful. It’s just one thought, followed by a completely separate and unrelated thought. Are some of those ideas brilliant? Absolutely. Are there a lot of clunkers? You can bet on that, too. Thus, Sparks
is an album containing its share of diamonds, but only if you’re willing to sift through the rough in order to find them.