Imogen Heap's "Speak For Yourself" was one of my favorite releases of 2005. Definitely one of the top ten releases of that year. So obviously there was much anticipation for her third full length album "Ellipse" to finally arrive. As frustrating as it can be to wait for a new release from an artist you greatly admire and respect, it can be equally frustrating when the album doesn't quite live up to your expectations.
This is not to say "Ellipse" is a bad album. In fact, there is a great album buried within it's thirteen tracks. The problem is you'd have to pare the album down by 4-5 songs to make that great album. "Speak For Yourself" was filler free. "Ellipse", sadly, is not.
The album opens up strongly with the first single, "First Train Home". Containing all the elements of Immi at her best, that wonderful voice, multi-tracked backing vocals (all Heap's), an instantly memorable melody and plenty of keyboard and electronic effects, it's an encouraging start. The next track, "Wait It Out", is a fine follow-up as well. Heap opens up a capella, before adding layers of instrumentation slowly to build into a beautiful track that winds down to a vulnerable vocal ending.
The next few tracks can't keep the momentum generated by the strong open going. "Earth" features more of Heap's impressive multi-tracking on vocals, she's literally singing amongst a chorus of herself, but "Little Bird" and "Swoon" are surprisingly generic.
Thankfully the middle section of the album is a strong rebound starting with the quick beats and orchestral sweeps of "Tidal". "2-1" is one of the album's highlights, both musically and lyrically. The dark, moody music serves as the backdrop to the lyrical warning that "things are not always how they seem".
More filler follows however, as both "Bad Body Double" and "Aha!" are, to this listener, the weakest tracks on the album. The lyrics to "Bad Body Double" are certainly admirable, touching upon a woman's issues with self-image and the pressures on women to live up to a certain standard of beauty. But the chorus seems silly at times with the references to "bad body double trouble". "Aha!" is nothing more than an odd curiosity and at barely over two minutes long, could have easily been left off and not missed.
Once again, however, Heap rebounds and does so in a magnificent way with the two ballads that close out "Ellipse". The ethereal, atmospheric "Canvas" fits its winter themed music video, you can literally see the snow falling while listening to this track. Violin, cello and acoustic guitar add to the orchestral keyboards and piano of this gorgeous song.
The closer, "Half Life", packs an emotional wallop. Heap delivers a reserved, vulnerable vocal much different from anything else on the album. Strings and keyboards swoon in around her vocals in this tear jerking piano track about an unfulfilling relationship. Heap sings the role of someone in love with another whose busy lifestyle does not allow her to receive the love in return that she gives and it's a heartbreaking performance. "It's a half life/With you as my quarterback/A daft life" she sings on the chorus. Lyrically the track is brilliant as well. From keeping track of the last time the object of your affection returned a text message ("My self-worth measured in text back tempo/It's been two days and 8 minutes too slow"), to wondering if the unhealthy situation could ever change ("Got a schedule to stick to, got a world to keep sweet/You're so much to everyone all the time/Will you ever slow down? Will I ever come first?/The universe contracts to sigh"), "Half Life" ranks with "The Moment I Said It" from "Speak For Yourself" as her most powerful, beautiful songs.
Obviously there is enough great material on "Ellipse" to make it worth purchasing. "Speak For Yourself" was a tough act for anyone to follow. Here, Imogen Heap still delivers much of what has helped build a large following and her fans won't be disappointed in the majority of the production, lyrics and, especially, her always astounding vocal performances. There are just a few too many tracks that don't stand up with her strongest material to keep"Ellipse" from reaching the great heights of its predecessor.