In the fall of 2005, I started my freshman year of college. I was a certified scene kid: I wore girl pants and band t-shirts, painted my nails black. Almost everything I listened to was guitar-based.
Then, I discovered this record (and its spiritual sequel, Imogen Heap’s Speak For Yourself).
And God as my witness, it made me a poptimist.
For years, I had decried pop music as cheap and lazy. It didn’t require real talent. Most of those pop stars didn’t even write their own songs, for crying out loud. The human experience is far too deep for musicians to have any excuse to stick with four-four time, major scales, and “pretty” timbres.
Imogen Heap must have heard me say something about that, because she sauntered her six-foot frame over to me, knelt down to look me in the eyes, and slapped the stupid right out of me.
Details is absolutely a pop record. It features every archetype that I had criticized pop for, but somehow, it has none of the shortcomings. Rather, it’s a sonic masterpiece—a symphony of synths, programmed beats, pianos, acoustic guitars, and orchestral flourishes. Brian Eno even shows up (on “Hear Me Out”). The sonic palette runs the gamut from the string-and-synth-drums of “Let Go” to the dark trip-hop of “Psychobabble” to the bouncing pop of “Maddening Shroud” to the Asian-tinged heartbreaker “The Dumbing Down of Love.”
But the star here is Imogen’s unmistakable voice, which wrestles her charmingly casual lyrics through all sorts of uncommon melodies. Whether she’s belting her lungs out, singing above a whisper, cooing gently, or on the verge of tears, her voice is absolutely impeccable.
In fact, her incredible voice may have led most listeners to assume she didn’t contribute much else to the record. Guy Sigsworth was the mastermind behind all the instruments, and Immie is just another pretty voice. But a quick scan of the liner notes reveals that to be completely incorrect. In fact, she’s credited with more instruments than Guy is.
It’s easy to speculate that that confusion is what led to Frou Frou’s demise—Imogen was tired of being overlooked as a producer, so they went their separate ways. But Frou Frou was sort of a happy accident in the first place. The two had a mutual respect that led to a few scattered collaborations (the first being “Flicks), then Imogen found her career in limbo after her record company folded. Had she not been under contract, or if Guy had called someone else to sing over the demo that became “Flicks,” Frou Frou might not have happened at all.
That would have been a tragedy indeed, because then we never would have had Details. While it failed to gain much of a following upon its release, it has since achieved the attention and adulation that it deserves. It is a bonafide masterpiece, stretching the boundaries of pop far beyond the limitations of the Top 40 charts.
And now that they’ve finally pressed it to vinyl, it’s going to get as much time on my turntable as it deserves.