Sophie Ellis-Bextor – Starlight
Here’s a good example of how to cope when your record company loses absolutely all interest. I present to you the story of Sophie Ellis-Bextor and the Last Laugh.
Sophie’s tale is a cautionary, but ultimately hopeful one. Having come to minor prominence with indie also-rans theaudience – who always favoured very long song titles over a decent tune – a guest spot on Spiller‘s Groovejet catapulted her into the national consciousness by virtue of it being released the same week as Out of Your Mind by (deep breath) True Steppers and Dane Bowers featuring Victoria Beckham. The press leapt on this as being the battle of Posh vs Posher, and it became the biggest chart war of the decade. Sophie played it relatively cool, while Victoria and Dane went on a desperate tour of practically every record shop in the country. I was lucky enough to be working in one of them, and it may interest you to know that Dane’s rider included EIGHT Mars Bar drinks, all of which he consumed. Victoria’s “people” were somewhat ruthless, and if you weren’t prepared to buy the single you didn’t get to meet her, even if you’d queued up for hours with a cute picture you’d drawn of you and Victoria taking tea together. The pair of them sat there miserably in bandanas, resembling Milli Vanilli on an off day, and as soon as they left we took the single off sale and filled the entire front panel with Groovejet, which ultimately triumphed in the charts.
All of this was the perfect springboard to launch Sophie as the UK’s new pop darling, and in short order the really quite good album Read My Lips was released, and it featured the gigantic and career defining hit Murder on the Dancefloor. This is where the problems began, because once you’ve had that kind of hit a large section of the public tends to think they now own everything by you that they need to. And so it was a case of diminishing returns from that point on, and by the time of third album Trip the Light Fantastic it was clear Polydor weren’t particularly interested in making much of an effort to promote it. An emergency Greatest Hits was planned, which then turned into a fourth album, Make a Scene, which eventually came out on Sophie’s own label after a few exploratory singles failed to catch. It was all a bit of a mess, but in the midst of this disaster came Starlight – and quite unexpectedly it was the best single of 2011.
Produced by Richard X – truly the heir to Trevor Horn in terms of glistening pop productions – Starlight is a song that is emphatically of the night, one of those tunes that demands a video where the singer is driven around Stockholm at about 2am in high summer. In fact it slightly recalls Shakatak‘s Night Birds in its twilight atmospherics, and is all the better for it.
If you do the sums, this was actually the album’s sixth single, though in directly preceding the album’s release it actually felt like the first. It was all too confusing for most people, radio had entirely given up on her and there was clearly very little marketing budget. It very much seemed like it was game over for Sophie, despite a valiant effort.
But! In one of those great pop resurrections that happen from time to time, Sophie made a side-swerve, discovered Bulgarian folk and came back with an actual hit album, 2014’s Wanderlust. Where she goes next is anybody’s guess, but it all goes to prove you can’t keep a good pop star down.
Entered chart: did not chart
Who could sing this today and have a hit? Tove Lo could totally do this justice, though she’d probably insist on chucking in the odd swear word because that is very much her Thing, isn’t it?