The Turn

Alison Moyet

2007: W14 174 9780

  1. One More Time
  2. Anytime at All
  3. The Man in the Wings
  4. Can’t Say It Like I Mean It
  5. It’s Not the Thing Henry
  6. Fire
  7. The Sharpest Corner (Hollow)
  8. World Without End
  9. Home
  10. Smaller
  11. A Guy Like You

“Home” is thrilling, the explosion of impatient disgust by a performer trapped onstage before an audience she despises; “The Sharpest Corner” is harrowing; and “Smaller” is heartbreaking by its end. But dammit, how I wish Moyet loved to record more stuff along the lines of “It’s Not the Thing Henry,” which kicks ass in the best tradition of danceable rage. Her melodies range from engaging to bafflingly elusive, so this is an album which necessitates repeated playings for at least that reason…but get some fresh air between listenings, because it’s a hot and crowded drama in there.

The album’s opening track feels like a bridging from Voice, full of big (if somewhat wandering) melody and orchestration. The first three tracks of this album are almost confusingly pain-free…there’s more effusive love and happiness in them than I’m accustomed to hearing from Moyet. Things return to normal soon enough, however, and the light suddenly changes to dark drama at track #4.

I didn’t respond much to “Can’t Say It Like I Mean It” at first, although in retrospect after several listenings I see how I could have done. Lyrically it’s the sad acknowledgement of the end of a love, inwardly gazing but spoken both to Self and to Other. Its entire latter half, however, is the mantra of the hurt and disappointed, a frankly stated lament that’s just so perfectly sad (in the emotional sense) coming out of Alison Moyet’s throat. “There are people who you think you’re gonna love forever…oh when you should know better…you should know better…. Some people only see you as a move they’re making…another step they’re taking…a bet they’re staking….” It’s so terribly, terribly sad and true. Then again, I can see myself on the other side of the same coin in another line of that mantra: “Some people don’t forgive you what you give them freely…or that you found it easy…they want to own completely…” Sorry, Scot.

The lyrics of “It’s Not the Thing Henry,” are such a tight little encapsulation of an interpersonal drama’s exasperated showdown that in comparison to all the vast and profound sorrows and emotions of the other tracks on The Turn this one seems almost like throwaway fluff. But taken on its own the song’s quite well-honed, and this recording certainly struts along with impressive self-confidence and angry dismissiveness. Its chorus looks so innocuous and tired in the CD booklet, where the lyrics are printed in run-on fashion as if it were a letter and not an explosive confrontation: “Ah Henry, would you look at me? You cannot have it all, and I will not make it easy. Henry, I’m not grateful for small mercies, no matter how light the purse is. All the things you need don’t mean a thing to me—it’s not the air I breathe, it’s not the thing, Henry.” Another concise gem from that lyric: “you’ve gotta be simple if you think that you’re moving more than the ire in me.”

“Fire” is the dark reflection of “Anytime at All,” sort of a Goth reading of a relationship that’s perhaps not going too badly. It sure sounds bleak, but is anything actually wrong? “Ours was a cruel exchange / Staying whole or being me and you / Forget, or find a way / To cut a hole that only we pass through.” The sense of irreversible damage is much clearer on “The Sharpest Corner (Hollow),” with lines such as “the only smile that lights your face is raised for my disgrace” and “No love me, love me, love. Hollow. Hollow. And no. No take me, take me in. Hollow. Hollow.” Written out it looks like Gertrude Stein’s territory, but sung it’s worthy melodrama.

Moyet’s liner notes on the three songs from the play “Smaller” are devastatingly helpful; I can’t restate them without doing them a disservice. Get yourself a copy of this album and come to know them yourself.

Which brings us to the song “Smaller” from that play. Now THIS is something I’d never concocted in my imagination: Alison Moyet as painted by Sufjan Stevens. What a gorgeous and poignant track. Simplicities and musical symbolism juxtaposed to discreetly maximum effect. And Moyet’s lyrics deliver one final knife-twist to close the song (and the album) exquisitely. (The bonus track “A Guy Like You” truly does sound like it was tacked on to fulfill a contractual obligation…it’s not a bad song or recording, but it’s the only video I’ve seen promoting the album and it’s the odd one out, stylistically.)