Ren Harvieu | Revel in the Drama | (Bella Union)
4 out of 5 stars
This follow-up to UK singer/songwriter Ren Harvieu’s 2012 Through the Night retains most of that album’s sparkling retro influences. But since that release was eight long years ago, and didn’t set the world on fire, this feels like a new beginning for the opulent singer. Or perhaps a fresh introduction to a head-turning talent.
Harvieu met Magic Numbers’ frontman Romeo Stodart in 2015 and spent the better part of two years co-writing and collaborating on these dozen songs. Equal parts Phil Spector, Dusty Springfield, Shirley Bassey, Duffy and Lana Del Rey, Harvieu works widescreen retro pop territory with her stunning, alternately powerful, innocent and sexy vocals. Those who appreciate Nicole Atkins’ well received 2017 album Goodnight Rhonda Lee will gravitate to this similarly styled slice of torchy 60s influenced pop.
Leiber & Stoller famously said “We don’t write songs. We write records,” and that could apply to these tunes too. Like her influences, there is little approximating rock on Revel in the Drama despite the pounding opening to “Cruel Disguise.” Rather, these are alternately melodramatic and whimsical, fully formed elaborately arranged songs that could have been included in a Fred Astaire musical or a Shadow Morton Shangi-Las production…or both. The music swells and pulsates with lush orchestrations and only occasional guitars as Harvieu’s voice leads with its near operatic reverberations. Think Roy Orbison as channeled through k.d. lang and you’ll get a sense of the sparkling pop exuded on tunes like “Teenage Mascara” and the swooning “Curves & Swerves.” On the latter she sings in a hushed yet determined voice “Maybe I’m much too much for a boy like you.”
Like those, there’s plenty of pulsating sexuality here. From “My Body She Is Alive” to the sensual heartbeat drums that pump through “Yes Please” with its lyrics of “We can play out all your darkest confessions/But you gotta get on your knees…Are you sure you want to play with fire,” this is an album to get busy with.
The sumptuous, plush and lavish vibe in songs like the swooning “This Is Our Love” with its shimmering strings, vibraphone and pedal steel makes Harvieu’s style unique, surely in contemporary music, but also as a combination of older, generally noir styles often found in the American Songbook catalog. Hopefully this plush, beautifully arranged and produced album will get more exposure than her previous release; it would be frustrating to have to wait another eight years for its sequel.
Take the advice of its title and revel in the drama.