Sophie Ellis-Bextor's new album marks a subtle shift in style for a singer best known for her cool sense of reserve.
By Nigel Packer
BBC News Online
With songs about insanity, infatuation and self-doubt, Shoot From The Hip finds her in a more intense mood than before.
"It is more emotionally direct," says the 24-year-old, when comparing her latest offering to million-selling solo debut Read My Lips. "That's part of the reason I called the album Shoot From The Hip. I did feel it was time to open up more."
The music, too, marks a further development for a singer whose career to date has ranged from the indie guitar pop of first band Theaudience to the quirky retro-disco of her solo hits.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor says her new album is "more left of centre"
Not forgetting, of course, the dance anthem Groovejet with DJ Spiller - which beat Victoria Beckham to the number one chart spot in 2000 and sparked a rash of Posh v Posher headlines.
"The new album's a little more left-of-centre at times," she says. "It has more of a live feel. I've been on tour a lot since the first album and that's reflected in the sound. I was working with more live instruments this time round.
"Beyond that I'd say it picks up where the first album left off. It's still a pop album - with elements of disco, indie and rock."
The album finds her working once more with co-songwriters Matt Rowe and Gregg Alexander, while former Suede guitarist Bernard Butler puts in an appearance. She also renews her fruitful liaison with Blur bassist Alex James.
"Alex is very easy-going in the studio," she reveals. "He just picks up his guitar or bass and messes about, picking out three or four chords. Then I'll come up with an idea for a melody and we'll start working it up."
"With this album we set up a load of instruments in the studio and started playing around with them until we hit on something. It was great fun for the boys, but I'd get bored with a tune after about five minutes - and they would still be plugging away at it after 12."
Ellis-Bextor has her reservations about the whole recording process, however, and admits she gets bored with being in the studio and finds the technical side of production "quite dull".
But she loves co-writing songs.
Sophie Ellis-Bextor's first solo album sold 1.5m copies
"The tune always comes first," she says, "and I add the lyrics last of all. But I don't like working on lyrics publicly in the studio - I prefer to take them away and work on them in my bedroom."
Touring, too, is something she enjoys - and she was pleasantly surprised to discover people of all ages and backgrounds turning up at her live shows.
"I thought everyone would be in their teens and early 20s," she says, "but there were quite a few older people there. I found it quite liberating - I realised there is no point in trying to write songs with a particular group of people in mind."
Her favourite two tracks from the new album reflect the range of styles on offer. Party In My Head she describes as "a weird, dark song - a little like The Cure or Joy Division", while in contrast Love It Is Love is a slick and funky pop song.
Looking ahead, the singer hopes to record some duets with artists she admires. "It's time I worked with some women," she says. "I would love to record something with PJ Harvey or Alison Goldfrapp."
And she adds that recent industry rumours suggesting she is working with the Pet Shop Boys are a little premature. "I only met them for the first time a couple of weeks ago," she says, "so maybe on the next album."
Shoot From The Hip is released on Monday October 27 on Polydor.