Before pop music became a public-access channel of sapped-down covers and low-riders setting off cropped tops -- basically a grand study of the teen-age midsection and the belly-button ring holding it together -- there was a place for Alison Moyet. Introduced as the larger half of British pop hit duo Yazoo (Yaz in the United States) in the early '80s, Moyet made a name for herself by exploring the darker sides of idiosyncratic interaction, turning love into imminent loss and howling into the night sky about the horrible injustice of it all. "Don't go!" she screamed over a predatory, new-wave wobble. But inevitably we did.
While Moyet's four solo recordings for Columbia through the late '80s and early '90s saw an increase in critical notice (even winning her a Grammy nod for 1991's "Hoodoo"), the international public grew disinterested in her peculiar pop stylings, opting instead for more photogenic but less sophisticated, stars. And though her 1995 greatest-hits compilation, "Singles," soared to the top of the European charts for months, Moyet drifted into has-been obscurity, popping up only once on Tricky's underrated "Nearly God" opus, on which she screams bloody murder beneath his signature studio murk. Her fate seemed all but sealed.
Next week Moyet releases "Hometime" in the United States, a breathtaking culmination of her deep-throated soul and vocal theatrics. Virtually unparalleled by anything that's come before it, "Hometime" is a soaring reminder of the potency of music itself. It's that rare album that stands above pedantic industry scrutiny, instead pulling you into a dreamlike study of the truth and beauty that reside in the difficult spaces between ourselves and others. Call it an epic new gospel, and you wouldn't be far off the mark.
"You want to wipe some space/ Onto the mirror for your face/ To get somebody coming back at you," taunts album opener "Yesterday's Flame" in a distant transistor-radio flicker. "Lonely lonely lonely/ And nothing's coming through." Deep, stand-up bass lines slowly push their way into delirious chimes of rebirth in the song as Moyet testifies, "I found it."
"Should I Feel That It's Over" strums a disaffected lament as it begins, eyes rolled, "I know what you bring me/ I keep them on the side/ With gone and nevermore." Spector-esque embellishments knock the chorus into the stratosphere, and ultimately that's what choruses are for.
Playful production tweaking casts Moyet in lush sonic vignettes where traces of trip-hop narcoticism are layered over high-hat jazz brushes and topped with a helping of Hammond-organ blues. Moyet herself has never sounded more on form, both lyrically and vocally. Where once she belted, now she simmers, only occasionally boiling over into an impassioned rant.
"It's the black in the grate/ The smoke in the sink/ It's the ether that you and I/ Opted to drink," she stews on "More." "It's the tooth that was chipped/ On the first ever kiss/ It's you and it's me and that's what it is."
But "Hometime's" most impressive moment comes at the very end with the resigned organ anthem "You Don't Have to Go." "All we gave away is never coming back/ All the love we made is anything but that/ And I feel, it's everything I know," Moyet sways, before laying into a pounding orchestral Big Rock climax of testifying chants and the croons to support them.
And when the curtain falls, "Hometime" lingers almost uncomfortably in the mind. For someone who could easily be past her prime, enlisting a corps of songwriters and hopping trends, Alison Moyet sounds incredibly important here simply being herself. It's really quite amazing.
Welcome back, Alison.