Imogen Heap

Almo, 1998

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


I'm guessing people under 30 will read the title of this album and think “Wait, Apple came out with a new and evidently very large iPhone and didn’t announce it?” Calm yourself. iMegaphone is Imogen Heap’s debut album, one that didn’t get the mainstream exposure it should have in the late 1990s. However, it attracted a number of indie fans and followers, who remain fans to this day of both the British artist’s solo outings and her brief work with Frou Frou.

Heap, also a Grammy-winning producer (for Taylor Swift’s 1989), remains a talented and searching artist who engages with her fans, contributes to soundtracks when asked, and stays on the forefront of musical technology. As her musical spirit has expanded, the ‘90s trappings of this album have been left behind, leaving this as a dated but still occasionally compelling debut effort.

The songs are mostly piano-based but then are dressed up with grungy guitars and nascent electronica beats, both of which were all the rage in the mid-90s; electronic music has long been a passion for Heap, and subsequent albums explored this while diminishing the alt-rock. The Grammys, ever-relevant and on the ball, nominated Heap for Best New Artist in 2006 after her my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 second solo album, forgetting apparently that iMegaphone ever existed and not having access to Google at the time, I suppose.

If all you know of Heap is her soundtrack material, “Hide And Seek,” and her other electronic work, then this album will come as kind of a surprise. But dated as it may be the disc still retains a power and grace. The downfall – not crippling, but close – is how similar the vocals and guitars sound to Alanis Morissette, with perhaps some Liz Phair and Sarah McLachlan (circa Fumbling and Surfacing) influence as well. It was a popular sound in 1998, but because this sound was everywhere, iMegaphone sounds immediately tied to its era. There are certain spots that sound like Jagged Little Pill leftovers. Moreover, because Heap doesn’t stand out from the pack on the debut, the label felt she was not commercially viable and dropped her (even after four singles) shortly after the album’s release.

In some ways, this may have been a blessing, as it allowed Heap to find her unique voice and grow, but elements of that voice are already here. “Angry Angel,” despite its Alanis-isms, is a lost alt-rock classic that you would do well to rediscover, all ferocious guitars and offhand attitude. On the other end, “Getting Scared” and “Sweet Religion” use electronica textures, a sprinkling of piano, and deliberate tempos to work their way under one’s skin.

Yet although individual moments like this are minor pleasures, there’s nothing jaw-dropping or standout, although there’s also nothing actively awful (although “Rake It In” tries hard to be, with its awkward phrasing, carnival atmosphere and godawful instrumental break). It’s not that the other songs are dull necessarily, but rather that they have been done by others a little better and lack the sort of memorable melodies or vocal tics they need to work. It seems as if Heap tried to channel her classical music training and love of electronica into what was commercially acceptable at the time, instead of what she really wanted to do, which is why iMegaphone doesn’t cohere as it should.

Still, if you’re fan of this era (think the above artists plus early PJ Harvey), you may want to give this a quick spin and see what grabs you. Heap would go on to do better things, leaving this album alone in her discography as a curious but flawed first step.

Rating: C

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2018 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Almo, and is used for informational purposes only.