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Shakespears Sister
Songs From The Red Room Jude Rogers , March 30th, 2010 07:00

Why is pop history always rewritten blandly, its quirkier corners streamlined into slick, glossy smoothness? Take what happened in last year's BBC series, Queens Of British Pop. Part one did its job well, profiling Suzi Quatro, Siouxsie Sioux and Kate Bush. Part Two went wrong, leaping from the unconventional-looking big belters of the 80s – Annie Lennox and Alison Moyet – to the shiny girl group pop of The Spice Girls. As riot grrrl writer Cazz Blaze told me the other week, it was if there was nothing to the 90s but Scaries, Sporties and Gingers. What about that peculiar female duo who spent eight weeks at no. 1 in 1992 – an androgynous woman with an asymmetrical haircut, and an ex-member of another girl group who had turned to the dark side – and their epic ballad of strange, gothic pop, its video inspired by doomy science-fiction?

Shakespears Sister may have only had one huge international hit, but 'Stay' had a profound effect on many pop adolescences, as well as sketch show parodies. As the only single led by Marcella Detroit – who had joined Siobhan Fahey's solo project as a part-timer in 1988, and slowly become incorporated into the band – it also cleaved the duo apart. They split a year later, in 1993, and Fahey has only released one solo album since. 3 was canned by London Records in 1996 when its fantastic lead single, the brass-laden 'I Can Drive', only cracked the top 30, and Fahey finally released it in 2003, after years of wrangling to reclaim the rights. Now, seven years later, the rager returns with Songs From A Red Room, full of tracks written over the last decade.

But, from the off, one question presents itself – how much of the album did Fahey really write? 'Pulsatron (Whitey Mix)' takes the riff from Nirvana's 'About A Girl', before applying the scratchy production of late 90s Blur. The chorus of 'Bad Blood' steals the entire verse melody from Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love', while 'It's A Trip' nicks the same song's synthesiser basslines. The "Ooh, baby baby" riff of 'Was It Worth It?' - an incongruous song that unites Fahey and Terry Hall for the first time since Bananarama and Fun Boy Three's 'It Ain't What You Do (It's The Way That You Do It)' – is Salt 'N' Pepa's from 'Push It'. 'A Man In Uniform', meanwhile, doesn't even try to hide its debt to, or its title from, Gang Of Four.

But there's something in this larceny that strengthens this album, making its thick fug of scuzzy electropop even more propulsive and addictive, seedy and delicious. Its mood and its attitude is cannibalistic more than anything, feeding off pop culture in the same way that Elastica used to make hay with Wire and The Stranglers. Like them, Fahey parades her influences so brazenly that she becomes a provocateur, saying, here I am, I can have this, let me do with it what I will. This is nothing less than remixers and bootleggers have been doing for years, and with Fahey's voice at the helm of it, this approach crackles with darkness, and unflinching sexuality.

And Fahey's voice is extraordinary. It always was – dark and viscous, dirty and soulful, but with a warmth in its bones that made it easy to love. On 'It's A Trip' again, a song that would have slotted perfectly onto Roisin Murphy's last album, Fahey sounds arch and earthy, singing camp lyrics like "Hey boy with the runny nose/ You can't help but cry when the cold wind blows", and puncturing the clichés of its cheesy chorus lyric ("It's a dream/Such a beautiful scene") with a sarcastic "wow". More great lyrics drive the grand drama of the incredible 'Hot Room', with Fahey's voice deepening the menace of images like "butterflies coming out of a hot room/White thighs hanging in the gloom". On 'Bitter Pill', a song originally released on her website in 2002 – and covered, strangely enough, by the Pussycat Dolls on their breakthrough album, PCD – she even lends her voice's smoky corners to country, another melancholic genre that gains weight from her delivery. How authoritative she sounds, and how wonderful this is.

Finally, before the remixes that sit at the end of the record (the only convincing one being Death In Vegas' take on 'Cold'), the album ends with the incredible, twisted electronica of 'A Loaded Gun', a song which reminds me of Madonna's hit, 'Frozen'. Every time I play it, this depresses me profoundly. Not because the song isn't good – it is terrifying and poppy and Lady Gaga would scream for it – but because it reminds me that Fahey will always be remembered for the song that destroyed her, and not the career that should have followed it, and the drive that should have made her a pioneering artist. For now, we have Songs From The Red Room, and a 51-year-old woman raging brilliantly against the dying of the light.

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