Editor’s Note: Our recurring “Portrait of the Artist” playlist series pays homage to the artists responsible for the most inspired and indispensable discographies of all time. We hope you enjoy these tributes, and stay tuned for many more to come.
Twenty years ago, a then 18 year-old Sophie Ellis-Bextor brought Venusian color to the monochromatic boy’s club palette of Britpop by fronting theaudience. Their fine eponymous debut won critical favor, if not commercial acclaim, and the group went their separate ways not long after its release.
Nonplussed, in 2000, Ellis-Bextor pivoted toward a collaboration with DJ Spiller and provided vocals to the dance exotica of “Groovejet (If This Ain’t Love).” The British vocalist’s solo debut Read My Lips followed a year later. The LP held chart clout with its brilliant recasting of Cher’s Casablanca Records era smash “Take Me Home” and Ellis-Bextor’s own monster hit, “Murder on the Dancefloor.” The deeper sides of Read My Lips betrayed further stylistic diversity, but they were obscured by the dance music of its larger hits. But, thankfully, Ellis-Bextor wasn’t going to be pigeonholed, least of all by herself.
In hindsight, her second long player, the criminally unsung Shoot From the Hip (2003), was one of the better British pop efforts of the period in that it balanced contemporary four-on-the floor rhythm patterns next to more extroverted, experimental pop music. In the larger scheme of Ellis-Bextor’s career, this LP set the tone for her engaging audiences artistically versus placating them commercially with her later projects: Trip the Light Fantastic (2007), Make a Scene (2011), Wanderlust (2014) and Familia (2016). These albums were kaleidoscopic in their mix of genres such as new wave, electronica, folk, classical and alternative pop―the latter sound bringing her full circle to her beginnings with theaudience.
In the span of 20 years, Ellis-Bextor has quietly crafted one of the most consistent discographies in pop music. It’s easy to see why, at her core she’s not only a skillful songwriter, but an adept interpreter who has covered material from a range of artists that has included Olivia-Newton John, Propaganda, and Baccara.
In honor of Ellis-Bextor’s 38th birthday today, I’ve curated this latest installment of our Portrait of the Artist playlist series, which comprises 25 tracks culled from the aforementioned six studio LPs Ellis-Bextor released between 2001-2016, with an exception issued to the ruminative, sparse ballad “The Earth Shook the Devil’s Hand,” which was the flip side to “Mixed Up World,” the lead-off single from Shoot From the Hip. Her B-sides have been uniformly strong like the material on their parent records, but Spotify only had this gem available, which leaves even more, for you, the reader/listener to discover on your own. In celebrating her recorded repertoire, one celebrates the indomitably creative spirit of pop at its uncompromising best.
Stream the playlist below, and please join us in wishing Mrs. Ellis-Bextor a very Happy Birthday!