Tuesday, 24 December 2013
121 Julia Fordham - Julia Fordham
Purchased : January 1989
Tracks : Happy Ever After / The Comfort Of Strangers / Few Too Many / Invisible War / My Lover's Keeper / Cocooned / Where Does The Time Go / Woman Of The 80s / The Other Woman / Behind Closed Doors / Unconditional Love
Actually I must have told a lie on the last post as this one came from Britannia as well so it must have been a buy one get two half price offer.
Here we have another forgotten female singer-songwriter from the late eighties. This is an entirely self-written album though there's a huge cast list of supporting musicians, a fair few of whom were on Infected including David Palmer though he's only on one track. Julia herself served time as a backing singer for Mari Wilson and Kim Wilde before cutting a solo deal with Circa Records. This was her debut LP released in the summer of 1988.
This was largely bought on the strength of the Top 40 hit "Happy Ever After" which kicks off proceedings. It's an interesting song that slips from personal to political dissatisfaction ( over apartheid ) halfway through and the sound gradually fills up aided by Grant Mitchell's crisp production. It's a percussion-driven track with a similar tempo to Terence Trent D'Arby's Sign Your Name and Peter Gabriel's Biko is another obvious influence. I don't have the technical vocabulary to describe Julia's deep and rich voice ; it's probably closer to a jazz voice than pop. She actually drops out of the song towards the end allowing Afrodisiak to chant it to a close.
The single that preceded it was "The Comfort Of Strangers" which has an interesting confessional lyric about looking for casual sex. Unfortunately it's set to the blandest , formulaic, late 80s pop arrangement this side of Climie Fisher. Julia's vocal style isn't exactly suited to the subject matter either. With no real hook it wasn't a hit. Bowie sideman Carlos Alomar adds some interest with his intricate guitar work but it's not enough.
The same problem is even more evident on "Few Too Many" which sets lyrics like "My appetite for anger is really ravenous" to a soporific supper club arrangement , all languid fretless bass and tasteful percussion, worthy of Sade at her most boring.
"Invisible War" is much much better, a piano ballad with mature lyrics about a failing relationship. It has a strong mournful melody and Julia sings it with beautiful control.
"My Lover's Keeper" is a very busy piece of pop funk with Palmer's firm drumming and Luis Jardim's chattering percussion keeping it moving. While I was writing that last sentence I was struggling to think who it reminded me of and I realise now it's Living In A Box particularly the chorus with its blaring brass. Underneath the bluster it's not a very strong song with Julia's lyrics back of an envelope standard.
"Cocooned" is languid and jazzy with the piano wandering about while Julia emotes fretfully about whether her relationship is cutting her off from the world. It's not very well expressed and the tune's forgettable.
"Where Does The Time Go ?" fell one place short of the Top 40 in February 1989. The title is self-explanatory ( and repeated often enough for near-hit status ) but the rhymes are a bit chocolate box - "reasons/ seasons", "worrying/hurrying" . The music is glossy but vapid; the main interest is in how much guest vocalist John O'Kane sounds like Michael McDonald (a lot ).
The most talked about track - at least at the time - follows next. When it comes to making a rod for your own back , titling a song on your debut LP "Woman Of The 80s" takes some beating and I seem to recall it being brought up in a number of her subsequent reviews. As a feminist anthem it falls somewhere between I Am Woman and Sheena Easton's Modern Girl ; Julia asserts that she won't call her man but admits that she misses him. Musically it's more of that jittery Living In A Box pop-funk ) , spunky but lacking any pop hooks. Hence. as the follow-up single to "Happy Ever After" it flopped.
"The Other Woman" is a downbeat rumination on being someone's mistress that sounds vaguely like Alison Moyet's All Cried Out without the big chorus. Ghosts from earlier in the decade , former Belle Starr Clare Hirst on sax and Julia's former employer Mari Wilson on backing vocals help out but in neither case is their contribution very noticeable.
"Behind Closed Doors " is another piano ballad but it re-uses the melody from "Woman Of The 80s and ends just as it seems to be building.
"Unconditional Love" re-locates that pop-funk sound to close out the LP. The song takes second place to the groove and mainly consists of a rather bludgeoning chant of the title.
Well, two good tracks out of eleven isn't enough for me so my interest in Julia ended here. She hung around long enough to chalk up a Top 20 hit with the forgettable "(Love Moves ) In Mysterious Ways" in 1992 but like many other artists of this period she was buried by Britpop ( arguably a more effective scouring agent than punk), and hasn't troubled the charts since.