(5 / 5)
In today’s sea of musical mediocrity, awash with those ravenous for fame for fame’s sake, now and again along comes music that literally takes my breath away and restores my faith…
From gifted artists treading their own path, staying true to their own identity, making music for the joy and love of it. Expressing themselves as honestly as they can.
No desperation to become a star, no chasing fortune or chart hits, or a need to boost an over-inflated ego or deluded beyond belief about their abilities.
Artists who are true craftsmen and women who are never driven by social media “likes”, and how many damn streams their expensive hired-help have notched up for them.
With all of this in mind, I give you Wrenne. Originally from Salt Lake City, Utah, USA. Eliza Wren Payne left behind a Mormon upbringing 17 years ago, to seek a new life and follow her musical dreams.
With a small backpacker’s guitar and a one-way ticket to London, she rocked up in the UK with hopes, with dreams and a love of making music. Now Midlands’ based and with a young daughter.
A striking look. Shaved head, disarmingly beautiful and very theatrical. Uber-athletic and a terrific dancer. Serious parkour athlete and respected fitness instructor. But her voice is traffic-stopping. The American accent adds a certain mystique…
Her one-woman show, which shares a title with her album, won rave reviews at the Edinburgh Festival, critics hailing her as “a future star” and an “extraordinary” voice. At this moment in time, on tour with Blue Rose Code for a bunch of UK dates.
Describing herself thus: “Utah child. UK Artist. Electronic Truth Catcher. Post-Mormon-Disney-Punk. Video Maker. Storyteller. Collaborator. Runner. Mother”.
This debut album, a long time in the making, with the intriguing title “I Said Yes To Everything”, is one of the most unexpected releases to float past my ears in a long time.
Addictive…quirky and off-the-wall, but commercially viable at the same time and with heaps of credibility. Hard to define, but sits in the electro-pop sphere, nods to classical, operatic and even a smidgen of drum ‘n’ bass.
Sublime and un-fussy production, with a “less is more” approach and above all else, spine-tingling vocals. But the song writing craft across these 13 tracks really is exemplary.
Very much in her own lane, but some may well mention the likes of Kate Bush, Bjork, Annie Lennox and for me, definitely Madonna, in the same breath as Wrenne. A big compliment and deservedly so.
First track, “Puzzle Place” kicks off at the higher end of her register, which she goes to effortlessly – kind of Kate Bush-ish. Movie and TV drama soundtrack-ripe. Just love her voice. Shivers…
Looped multi-layered backup voices, a la Laurie Anderson’s mesmeric 1982 # 2 UK hit “O Superman”, add huge value. Co-written with Jonathan Latimer and Gregor Philp, produced by Philp and Hugo Vereker.
“Running To Orion”: Kate Bush meets Madonna meets Debbie Harry – all with a country twist.
Two versions of “Love Love Love”, @ track three and track 13, both nicely chilled – the final version features composer Craig Armstrong and was written by Wrenne and Gregor Philp.
The first version offers up sparse piano and voice arrangement, which leads into understated strings. Emotion-soaked vocal. Just beautiful. Again, ready-made for a sync’ deal for a movie soundtrack. The second version is more electronic/programmed, with Craig on keyboards. A co-write with Paul Statham, produced by Hugo Vereker and Ben De Vries
That’s the thing; most of Wrenne’s tracks here create moving images in my head. Same as when I listen to classical music, imagining what could be taking place visually to go with the music.
Acting megastar Idris Elba guests on the former single, “Come Alive”. Penned with Tim Gordine, produced by Hugo Vereker and Marius De Vries, a major league producer who has worked with Madonna, Björk and on the soundtrack to the smash hit movie La La Land.
One of Wrenne’s collaborators got the track to Idris, who loved the song and was delighted to record his part in L.A. He later told Wrenne how grateful he was to be asked.
“Come Alive” is in The Art Of Noise territory. (I’d just love to get the genius Anne Dudley and Wrenne together – and will.i.am should hear this stuff, too…). Spoken word “rap” on top of an up-tempo electro-groove. Infectious hook. A stone-cold winner. Lovely video to go with this track, too.
The first of two covers on the album: “Love And Affection”, the Joan Armatrading classic. I appreciate how different it is to the original, but without messing about too much with the melody. If I was music supervisor on the new Bond movie, I’d grab this for the soundtrack before anyone else does. Produced by Philp and Vereker.
“Hope” is Wrenne’s anthemic, operatic/classical-meets-pop offering. Co-written with Paul Statham, it features composer John Altman on saxophone, and a children’s ensemble from Wrenne’s local area, including her daughter Darwin. Produced by Tim Gordine and Hugo Vereker
You could slap this on the trailer or opening/closing credits for the Euro 2020 football tournament, the World Cup, The Olympics, almost any big sporting event, and people would be ‘Shazamming’ the hell out of it to buy the track there and then. There’s a superb video for this track, shot on the West Coast of the US, in the Joshua Tree region.
After a pleasant track called “Heaven”, we have hot cut, “Blood In Stone”. An unusual chord structure and arrangement. I really admire the simplicity of the production on this and all these tracks, and how the songs are allowed to breath and stand on their own two feet. No frills or OTT effects. Written with Heaven 17’s Berenice Scott.
“Never Going Back” features Gary Clark, from the band Danny Wilson (of “Mary’s Prayer” fame ) and composer of the film “Sing Street”. Here he sings harmonies with Wrenne, and it’s a very nice job. Gregor Philp co-wrote this one with Wrenne.
“Find Me” features The Swingle Ladies – Jo, Clare and Sara, the three women who sing as part of the London-based seven-piece vocal outfit The Swingles. A touch of Celtic and Aboriginal vibes seeping into this lovely track. Neat harmonies from The Ladies on a song co-written with Jon Rydningan.
Second cover is an intriguing version of The Waterboys’ “Whole Of The Moon”. Then the wistful and ethereal Enya-esque/Clannad-ish track “You Are More”, co-written and co-produced by La Force aka Johnny Tomlinson.
There are many words that could sum up this album. “Mesmerising”, “Stunning”, “Beautiful”, “Special”, “Classy”, “Wow”.
Which got me jotting down other adjectives as I listened track by track. “Confidence, vulnerability, fragility, bravery, desire, passion, revealing”. Only Wrenne knows which, if any, are a fit for her as an artist, as a person and for this body of work. But it’s what we hear that counts, eh?
So, what is music? For me, music is what emotions sound like. But what it isn’t: Music is not and should never only be about success. If it is successful, bonus time. But the best music is surely about the spiritual path. The only path for some.
I get the impression that Wrenne, aka Eliza, is a seeker and never content to just sit back and go with the flow. Thriving on the creative freedom – and the risk – of treading her own path and not knowing where that will take her.
Thank goodness her most recent path lead to making sure I got to hear this magical album.
- The album is available digitally from the usual places, and there is a limited edition run of 100 CDs that have just arrived.
By Simon Redley
(2 / 5) ‘OK Zone’
(3 / 5) ‘Decent Zone’
(4 / 5) ‘Super Zone’
(5 / 5) ‘Awesome Zone’