It was murder on the dancefloor, but did the music get the best of Sophie Ellis-Bextor?
by Mark Keen
It’s a bit unfair to ask where Sophie Ellis-Bextor is now as she has never been that far away and is not exactly a heritage act by some way (she was only born in 1979 for heaven’s sake). However, it feels like she has been around for a long time as many of us grew up with her mother Janet Ellis on Blue Peter in the 1980’s, so she’s always seemed like part of the family and even popped up on Blue Peter a few times. Sophie has since blessed us with a real smorgasbord of styles from disco to folk to electronica as well as popping up with a spot of TV presenting.
Sophie first came to our attention with the indie rock band Theaudience in the late 1990’s. Whilst they only managed one album there was a noticeable single which became my mantra in life, “A Pessimist Is Never Disappointed” hitting number 27 in 1998.
Sophie soon ditched the indie pop after recording a B-side in 1999 with the Manic Street Preachers on “The Everlasting” single and made a huge splash when she collaborated in 2000 with DJ Spiller on “Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)” which still sounds as fresh as a daisy. With lyrics from Rob Davis, who co-wrote Kylie’s “Can’t Get You Out Of My Head”, the single entered number one after a battle royale with Victoria Beckham releasing her fist single hit “Out Of Your Mind”. Sophie was clearly the worthy winner with this sublime bit of pop.
Sophie capitalised on this success with four top twenty hits off her first album, the two million selling “Read My Lips”. I didn’t care much for the first single a cover of Cher’s “Take Me Home” (UK No.2), but there was greatness to come with the fantastic “Murder On The Dancefloor” in December 2001 (UK No.2) which came with a classic video (directed by Sophie Muller who has directed videos by Sade and more recently Kylie) and was Europe’s most played song in 2002. It got to number two, but was robbed in my view of the number one spot.
A couple more hits would follow with “Get Over You” (UK No.3) and “Music Gets The Best Of Me” (UK No.14) before she started working on album number two, “Shoot From The Hip”, which followed in 2003. The first single, “Mixed Up World” (UK No.7) is a perennial favourite with lyrics that really speak to anyone who doesn’t know what to make of life and its ups and downs. It certainly spoke to me at the time.
“Mixed Up World” hit the top 10 in the UK and was followed by another top 10 class hit in “I Won’t Change You” (UK No.9) and a great speed dating video. If you can find the CD single there is a great version of “Yes Sir, I Can Boogie”. “Shoot From The Hip” was a brilliant album, but struggled to make much of an impact just sneaking into the album top 20.
Sophie returned to the album top 10 in 2007 with “Trip The Light Fantastic”. The first single “Catch You”, co-written by Cathy Dennis, was a top ten hit in the UK and was again another cool video filmed in Venice by Sophie Muller which lifted the single on to another plain. The video has echoes of the film ‘Don’t Look Now’ noticeably with the symbolic use of the colour red.
The further singles from the album made less of an impact, but Sophie would return in 2009 with another well judged collaboration with the Freemasons on “Heartbreak (Make Me A Dancer)” which just missed the top ten in the UK, but had considerable and well deserved success in Europe.
Unfortunately the success of the single did little to help the fourth album “Make A Scene” reaching only number 33, and the follow up single “Bittersweet” reaching number 25.
However, rejuvenation was just around the corner and a stint on Strictly Come Dancing in 2013 really reminded everyone what a great artist Sophie was. A complete change of music style was on the cards taking a folk/baroque hybrid sound with the successful “Wanderlust” album returning Sophie to the top 5 album chart. Part of this change came with the producer Ed Harcourt, which has become a fantastic working relationship. A number of singles were released with singles directed by the ubiquitous Sophie Muller starting with the top 40 hit “Youngblood”.
Sophie would continue this working relationship with Ed Harcourt and Sophie Muller on the top 20 “Familia” album in 2016. This album includes one of my favourite ever songs “Unrequited” which you must check out if you have ever suffered from unrequited love (haven’t we all?). Check out the first single “Come With Us” from the album.
More recently Sophie has been recording an orchestrated greatest hits “The Song Diaries” due anytime now. A single has just been released which takes us back to “Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love)” which sampled “Love Is You” a disco hit from the 1970s.
Along with this, Sophie has just announced that she is expecting her fifth child with her musician husband Richard Jones, bassist with The Feeling, another class act. Sophie has occasionally sung with The Feeling (check out the brilliant “Leave Me Out Of It” which can be found on the “Together We Were Made” album and featured on their 2011 greatest hits “Singles”). Sophie’s Facebook feed is also worth checking out as she is just so down to earth and honest, with none of the usual showing-off we come to expect from our current social media obsessed wannabes.