h, the old image / music question rears its head once again. An interesting image is, of course, a splendid thing. It can make good music better, and average music into something more palatable. But most importantly, it can change the way we listen to a song—what initially appeared plain and uninvolving, may become mysterious, should the artist project some intrigue off-record.
Helicopter Girl (aka Jackie Joyce) certainly has her image sorted. The cover shot is striking—she is perched on a throne, her sharp jaw line thrust unsmilingly towards the camera. A black top hat perches on her head, and she is decorated handsomely with ornate neck jewelry. A skeletal, dark figure—the listener can hardly wait to crack out the CD and see if this sense of intrigue translates smoothly to her recorded output.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t. While Helicopter Girl’s visual attributes are formidable, the music / image ratio is disappointingly over-balanced towards the latter. Her singing voice is definitely her other strong point—stylish, yet retaining a sense of worldly inner strength. But the record’s sound is its major weakness. The textures on this album continually bog it down—bland session musos strip the record of its life, while weak rhythms cripple any momentum it develops. What could have been a mysterious, idiosyncratic treat settles for being a bland slice of designer trip-hop.
The album’s low-key middle section does, at least, provide some hope for the future. Helicopter Girl strips down the dull rhythm tracks, pushes her elegant voice to the forefront and delivers some jazz-inflected loveliness. “Her Lucille” is slinky and tender, with Joyce cooing sweetly above muted brass squeals. While “Blue Melody” is the highlight, full of cocktail piano splashing gorgeously over gentle percussive pitter-patter.
Unfortunately, the remainder of Voodoo Chic is drab and forgettable. Breathy studio treatments smother Joyce’s vocal strength, giving her a Dido feel. But, then again, that sort of things does appeal to some people (her 2000 debut How to Steal the World garnered a Mercury Prize nomination).
She’s been passed up for the Mercury this time out, though, so her commercial breakthrough may have to wait. In fact, there’s only one sign of a hit single on the whole thing (“Angel City”). Creatively, there is still a way forward. Joyce possesses a strong voice and a decent song writing touch—all she needs are stronger collaborators. Sharper production and more interesting session fodder are needed urgently—Helicopter Girl’s promise (and image) should not go to waste.
Reviewed by: Kilian Murphy
Reviewed on: 2004-08-13