Ace songwriter, producer and all round good egg Steve Anderson has been responsible for some of my very favourite songs of the past few years - and in 2015 he continued his winning streak with some of my favourite albums of 2015 (including Harriet and Kylie) as well as singles. I'll try not to repeat the more well known songs of his that I've already covered but will instead concentrate on some of the glorious concoctions he has weaved for albums and performances that may not be as well known. Here are six of his very best...
- 06 ~ Alison Jiear, Xanadu: Alison Jiear returned (hurrah) and bought her impressive set of pipes to the Steve Anderson produced Xanadu. It. Is. EVERYTHING. It's a lovingly faithful version that accentuates and accessorises everything you loved about the ONJ version. It opens with Alison's distinctive and engaging voice set to a titillating beat and enough synth effects, carefully placed to amp up your excitement for the chorus. While it's doing that, Alison does a rather brilliant job of expressing the wide-eyed wonder you should feel upon entering Xanadu. It's an exhilarating start and a journey that only gets better with each seductive beat. The music feels sentient and responsive to Alison's guiding of that irrepressible melody - it crescendos and cascades like a muscle bound boy in shorts at the roller disco, strutting his stuff to impress the ladies and make his six pack ripple. And that's what this song does - it ripples with a tangible energy that infuses you with the power equivalent to a dopamine rush to the brain and just as satisfying. Alison really does command the song - yet she's a master of knowing how much vocal volume to give so as not to overtake that sensational score that is just as important as her seductive singing. I'm breathless and giddy from just listening (and no, not just because I was thinking of the rippling muscles :D)
- 05 ~ Markus Feehily, Only You: Co-penned with Steve and Tinashe Fazakerley, this is an achingly nuanced ballad that is the perfect setting for Markus' resonant vocal style. He flawlessly captures that moment of stark realisation that we all have, when something so obvious comes to the forefront of our internal comprehension and leaves you gasping for air. It's that still yet dramatic moment that the song's composers have exquisitely recreated - Markus' voice is full of melancholic remorse as he's accompanied by a fragile, lilting piano melody during the first verse and chorus. As the percussion drops at the start of the second verse it's as if Markus is gaining courage and strength by learning from the past with the music buoying up his resolve to follow his heart. There's a moment (at around the 1m30s mark) where the music fades and gloriously textured voices dominate the song for just a few seconds - it's a brief moment but so powerfully done it impacts the listener for the rest of the tune. Such a gifted performer is Markus that although he sings the exact same words in the second chorus it sounds much more hopeful and optimistic than the pensive reflection we previously heard. It's an elegant piece that builds with a conviction that leaves the listener in no doubt of the emotional gamut that Markus has been through. There aren't enough songs like this on the radio, truly timeless classics that leave you drained yet satiated at the same time. Gorgeous...
- 04 ~ Bianca, We Belong: I do love it when Steve is involved in cover versions of some of my favourite songs. He always seems to find a new way to make me fall in love with them all over again (if he'd like to tackle Don't Cry Out Loud with someone in 2016 that would be just dandy). It's such a song of acceptance and equality that it seems just as relevant now as it did when it came out 31 years ago. Bianca is in her element here amidst a stunning production that includes a powerhouse vocal (soft then booming, caressing then commanding), prominent percussion like majestic thunderclaps and a punctuated synth that gently propels the song forward. You can almost envisage Bianca with big hair, shoulder pads and Pat Benatar in the background, nodding with emphatic approval. If you don't know this song you will fall in love with it after one listen; if you do then it's just a brilliantly uplifting way to rediscover it. Amazing.
- 03 ~ Harriet, For Someone Else: A song about how people come into our lives and how (although we don't know it at the time) they will only be there for a short time before we have to let them go. It's not acrimonious or hurtful, it's just accepting the fact that both people involve belong to, well, someone else. Harriet sings this with an earnest sincerity, her voice imbued with a genuine goodwill that life will be better because of this decision. When she sings (in the second verse) "I knew in my heart I'd say that it's over now" and taps into the lower register of her voice, it's a delivery that's so beautifully impassioned and intricate that it speaks more about the nature of love than a hundred harlequin romance novels ever could. She sidesteps the often meretricious nature of pop by pouring her soul into making the narrative resonant with honesty and experience. She's ably accompanied by a shuffling beat, cooing backing vocalists and a score that ever so gently buffets the blow she's delivering - indeed the swell of music that takes her into the chorus feels like it is giving her the power to go through with her decision, making it that much more emphatic and final. Yet as noted there's no malice and it becomes the sweetest goodbye that one could wish for. If all relationships that have to end ended like this the world would be a happier place.
- 02 ~ Kylie & Dannii Minogue, 100 Degrees: Sisters ARE doin' it for themselves and they've apparently found a time machine to step back in time to the annual festive shin-dig at Studio 54. You can almost envisage Liza Minelli quaffing champagne at the VIP table whilst Gloria Gaynor bumps and hustles her way across the dancefloor to the sound of the O'Jays (remember the O'Jays?!) 100 Degrees is a sizzling slice of disco pie that will make you glad from head to (mistle)toe). The ballad-esque intro recalls the halcyon days of those epic Donna Summer songs (like Last Dance) - particularly when the funky beat drops and a whirling, swirling dervish of strings accelerate this loving tribute to a time when it was easy to find the music to get down and boogie. And boogie along to this you will - not just because it recreates every single signature sound from every 70s dancefloor smash that you know and love, but also because Kylie and Dannii sound luminous together with the sheer joy of singing a song so deliriously wild and stimulating. If it sounds indubitably fun and frivolous, it's because it IS fun and frivolous - but let it be known that there is really smart songwriting and production behind this song that unveils this sense of heady freedom. And it's all powered by the gleeful, enthusiastic singing from the Minogue sisters. The winners of Christmas - and showing that winners really do take it all. PS I'm totally classing this as a song that can be played beyond the season and immersing myself in the brilliant remixes throughout January (and beyond).
- 01 ~ Claire Richards, One For Sorrow: Less a remake and more of a complete reconstruction it feels like both singer and producer have stripped the track back to it's bare bones, studied those devastating lyrics and rebuilt it as the torch song ballad it always had the potential to be. Claire gives a stunning vocal portrayal of a woman going through a gamut of emotions - at times she is full of sadness and remorse ("I wanted your love but look what it's done to me), other times clinging to an almost desperate hope that seems to keep her going through the darkest moments ("And do you ever think of me and how we used to be?"). She's accompanied by just a piano during the first verse which provides a warm, comforting support through resonant chords whilst really allowing Claire's nuanced delivery to shine. As the first chorus comes in, an elegiac strumming guitar comes in that not only accentuates the anguish and yearning in Claire's vocals but also adds an element of country music influence to the track. And what is country music if not the music of pain? This leads to a fully textured wall of sound in the second verse which brings together all these elements as well as adding some subtle percussion to the mix. The coalescing of this instruments seems to provide Claire with the lift she needs to tell her story - the aching fragility of the first verse gives way to a performance of someone empowered by her own experiences, willing to share with others so that they too can learn and grow. It's done so exquisitely that this really does become a work of living art, a study of how chord progression, blending of sounds and vocal control can be an incredibly liberating experience for both singer and listener. The orchestral strings infuse the middle 8 with a sense of grandeur and elegance which makes that piano-vocal moment before the final chorus have all the more of an impact with it's tender yearning. And then, WOW. That final chorus may be the most glorious 1 minute of music since the final moments of Abba's The Winner Takes It All. I fear any words used to describe it would not do it the justice it deserves but it genuinely is an astonishing accomplishment that exists to be experienced.