Important fact about me: I love love love Imogen Heap. She is a goddess of musical invention and magic and I will listen to her anytime, anyplace. Today’s throwback is to Imogen’s second solo album, Speak for Yourself and the special place it holds in my heart.
Imogen’s first album, iMegaphone is kind of dark and spidery, with her voice sounding very stark and British on each track. Her third effort, Ellipse, is dreamy and full of longing. There’s loads of experimentation with sound here too. Speak for Yourself is the middle child, and is full of songs about love, family and mystery.
I first discovered Imogen Heap through Frou Frou, her collaboration with producer Guy Sigsworth. They covered ‘Holding out for a hero’ for the Shrek 2 soundtrack (NO SHAME). I loved Imogen’s unique, sorta trippy voice and the dream-like electronic production. I sought out their album, thought it was amazing and listened to it on repeat for weeks. It’s not a massively well know album, one of its bigger successes was that one of the tracks, ‘Let Go’, was used on the Garden State soundtrack. As a previously documented avid O.C fan [link]I realised when ‘Hide and Seek’ was used at the end of Season 2 (to tremendously dramatic effect) that Imogen had been busy making solo stuff. (That song completely blew up after being used in the show, remember?)
Overjoyed to have new tracks to listen to I went out and bought Speak for Yourself. I was 18, about to head off to university and on the brink of being an adult and responsible for myself for the first time (well, semi-responsible…I lived in catered Halls of Residence*). Speak… is an album of questions for me, with thoughts about life and love. There’s discussions of unrequited love (‘Goodnight and Go’, ‘Closing In’), ruminations on the complexities of being in love and having a relationship (‘Loose Ends’, ‘The Walk’ and ‘The Moment I Said It’) which I was experiencing for the first time, family dynamics (‘Just for Now’), self-destruction (‘Clear the Area’) and so much else. These are the meanings I have attributed to the songs but there’s always a wonderful ambiguity to Imogen’s songs that makes them universally applicable.
As a then brand new student of English Literature, I was fascinated by the imagery and language used in Speak for Yourself. Heap fills her songs with metaphors, tiny moments and evocative lyrics.
Different songs still stand out to me for different reasons. There’s the bolshie indifference of ‘I Am In Love With You’, the slightly stalker-ish nature of ‘Goodnight and Go’ (“and you think you’re alone…), the video-game-anime-adventure quality to ‘Daylight Robbery’, the unique vocacoded slow sound of ‘Hide and Seek’ and the heart-breaking pain in ‘The Moment I Said It’ (my personal favourite). It achieves the distinction of being a collection of very different song, while still sounding like a coherent album. Heap’s enthusiasm for experimentation with instruments and love of using strange elements in her songs (the album notes reference carpet tubes and CD cases) makes listening to her seem like an adventure.
One of my first gigs at University was watching Heap at the Leadmill, a tiny club and venue in Sheffield, watching enthralled as Imogen filled the stage with her Perspex piano and big hair. By this point I had got hold of iMegaphone and was a full-on-dedicated Heap-ite. She wandered through the crowd at one point, strolling right past me and leaving a trail of perfume, so that the key thing I took away was that Imogen Heap smells really nice. (Interestingly, the first place I finally saw Jason Mraz live was also at the Leadmill.)
I associate Speak… with my first year at university, moving forward and starting afresh; even listening to it now I still feel a thrill of possibility. Listening to Imogen’s music has bonded me with colleagues and helped me push through some serious anxiety. Her work is always full of a sense of wonder and open-ness that I hope will carry through to her upcoming fourth album, Sparks. I can’t wait!
*Side note query – do those actually exist anymore? If not, where do all the lazy students stay and how are they coping?