Trading in her Flamenca-focused records of the last few years for the happiness of HANA, Sophie Ellis-Bextor extracts herself from her kitchen disco and lays down some wider beats. From extracts of BBC Radio footage and clippings, listeners can already ascertain the fine style Ellis-Bextor has. To hear it on a new project is always a treat. She is after all the artist who brought Read My Lips into the public eye, a fascinatingly underrated record that ages like fine wine. Not just in the sense of quality through the years it passes through but in the sense that, after a few bottles of wine, Murder on the Dancefloor becomes a lucid party essential. Whether HANA comes through as another alternative to one too many bottles of White Zinfandel is yet to be seen.
HANA takes Ellis-Bextor to an electronic, instrumental place she has not quite pursued in full. A Thousand Orchids opens with this resplendent feel, the direction toward the heart placed over the top of Ed Harcourt-featuring compositions. Ellis-Bextor’s gift here is her writing, the Elysian fields wandered through as a break from those Kitchen Disco days. Lush little numbers follow through on HANA single Breaking the Circle, a pop-ready gift of a piece which batters the brains of those listening in. Don’t forget the fear. It is right there at the core of this tune, the sun never rising on those who are terrorised by new horizons. It comes through with such a powerful melody and booming chorus, near impossible to not be taken by. Destined for change as all are, coupled with the intermittent realisations made through Until the Wheels Fall Off, HANA gives Ellis-Bextor some time at the absolute top of her game.
Confident and carefree momentum carries HANA. Live the good life. Push at it for all its worth. Ellis-Bextor tricks listeners with this upbeat optimism, but caution clings to her words. She charts those lows and highs, the simplicity which comes from mood-swinging panic. HANA is a surprisingly tense piece, one which has the second guesses buried deep in the psyche, drawn out by confident approaches in the composition of these percussion-heavy tracks. Get lost in the liberation of touching grass. Lost in the Sunshine insists on it and the heatstroke which comes from poor navigation. Do it, though. There is something about the summer spells which make the soul fill with warmth and goodness, even if sore throats and baggy eyes are what the week has in store.
Whether cultural appropriation can be levelled at Ellis-Bextor for her placements on lush and vague Tokyo or the album cover provided is neither here nor there for the quality HANA holds. In those latter stages of HANA comes a quirkiness which separates her works prior to this from her recent album. She is no longer tethered to previous perceptions, and the heavier drums, and the baggy-like structure of certain tracks, give Ellis-Bextor the chance for reinvention. If ever there was a need to re-establish a pop sensation, then Ellis-Bextor is given the chance on HANA and has more than a handful of tracks which bring her to the centre of attention once more, and deservedly so. All you have to do is trust, as Beyond the Universe asks of its listeners. Do it, and there you find the consistencies, the clarity and the keen experiences of HANA.