PopMatters is moving to WordPress. We will publish a few essays daily while we develop the new site. We hope the beta will be up sometime late next week.

Lisa Stansfield: Seven

Sevenisn’t the utter triumph one might have hoped for, but it sees British soul pop icon Lisa Stansfield artistically reinvigorated, still as vocally divine as she's ever been.

Lisa Stansfield


Label: Monkeynatra
US Release Date: Import
UK Release Date: 2014-02-10
Artist Website

Disappointment arrives this year in a gorgeous, dusty, antiquated box with the words Seven written in red ink across the top of it. Lisa Stansfield, the owner of that stunning, soulful British voice has returned after an absence of ten years. Always a veritable force to be reckoned with, her instrument is still as warm, sensuous and striking as it has forever been, albeit a little pleasantly weathered from life now. Stansfield hasn’t aged a day and continues to possess that mysterious “it” factor in spades, but it might have behooved her to hire a producer who could bring her sound into the present day without sacrificing what makes her so uniquely brilliant. She and her songwriting partner and husband Ian Devaney appear to be responsible for the slightly démodé production on this seventh album, so while the string arrangements are spectacular, the brass sections are always riveting, and that voice is still incredible, there’s something curiously missing. In the attempt to sound ageless, she delivered an album that often can’t decide which decade it was released in.

The songs of Seven are mostly delightful, refreshingly feminist and undeniably well-crafted, but so many of them seem to be lost in a veritable time warp. While the songwriting is immensely better than her Trevor Horn-produced, 2004 album The Moment, the evolution and willingness to experiment Stansfield displayed on that record, seems to have partially dissipated in the creative process for Seven. It’s hard to fault much of anything though, when the performances are this blindingly strong.

First single “Can’t Dance” is fantastic. It’s clear that Stansfield was aiming for a retro, disco, Chic-lite mood and in that she succeeded. The tasteful handclaps are quite a nice touch and there’s little ignoring its immediate charms, yet one might inquire where she thought the success of a track like this would lie in the current musical market? Would she still be relevant? It appears remixes from Moto Blanco, Snowboy, and Cool Million have already worked their magic in the clubs, so maybe I’m underestimating the general public at large. Apparently she still has a formidable fan base clamoring for her live performances, as all her recent concerts in the UK have been completely sold out.

So the question remains, why did she disappear for so long? Her response was as such, “I felt I didn’t fit in anywhere. I didn’t want to alter what I do to fit in to a current trend, but things run in cycles and now it feels as though the time is right to get my foot in the door again.” So, she might not necessarily “fit in” within a Top 40 playlist containing Pitbull, Miley Cyrus, and Beyoncé , but “Can’t Dance” proves she still has some commercial clout.

Sultry second track “Why”, with it’s big band bombast, slinks around, simmering until it boils over three-fourths of the way though. It's electrifying. Grammy Award-winning musician and orchestrator John Hey, who was an integral part of Michael Jackson’s Off The Wall, Thriller, and Bad albums, brings his expertise to the table here with scintillating results. He leaves his talented fingerprints all over the old school charm of “So Be It”, where a distant harp entwines with joyous “oohs” at one point, recalling Be Yourself Tonight-era Eurythmics. The splendid “Stupid Heart” sounds like something that would have been recorded decades ago at the legendary FAME Studios in Muscle Shoals, Alabama. These first four tracks are so well executed, that when the plodding mid-90s ballad “The Crown” arrives, it’s jarring to say the least. Coming off as a mere Mica Paris b-side, the track has no emotional arch and doesn’t leave much of an impression. If it weren’t for the vocal performance on the following courtroom drama-flavored song “Picket Fence”, it would pass by without much notice as well.

Thankfully the songwriting strength that dominated the first half of the record returns with “The Rain” and “Conversation”. In an album that showcases the versatility of her voice in various genres, Stansfield suddenly steers the proceedings into unexpected musical theater territory. Both songs sound like eleven o’clock, show-stopping numbers from a Broadway musical, giving her an opportunity to flex her Jennifer Holliday muscles. It’s striking how similar she sounds to the Tony award-winning actress, best known for her stellar turn in the original stage production of Dreamgirls, within the context of these two pieces. She explodes with life on the confident pair and they’re truly the highlights of Seven.

From there she unsuccessfully takes another stylistic detour, dabbling in the Northern soul of the album’s second single, “Carry On”. I still can’t imagine why this was chosen as the follow-up to the infinitely superior “Can’t Dance”. The track’s pleasant enough, but Lisa’s histrionic wailing towards the end, sees her uncomfortably derailing in the vocal department. Seven regains it’s footing once again with the final song of the set, the infectious R&B track “Love Can”. This is classic Stansfield, unforced, seductive and poised. There’s a distinct modernity about the production that’s mostly absent from the rest of the album, and it’s damn near irresistible.

Twenty five years since her global, chart-topping single “All Around The World” was released, the iconic soul singer returns with a comeback album that isn’t terribly “of the now”, but it’s admirably solid for someone who’s been out of the game for a decade. While the songs may play it stylistically safe and echo previous musical eras instead of redefining soul pop for the 21st century, the vocal performances are so impressive that it’s difficult to be too harshly critical of the effort put forth. One thing is for certain, it would be an absolute crime against humanity if she disappeared for another ten years. Sevenisn’t the utter triumph one might have hoped for, but it sees British soul pop icon Lisa Stansfield artistically reinvigorated, still as vocally divine as she's ever been.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology and hosting provider that we have less than a month, until November 6, to move PopMatters off their service or we will be shut down. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to save the site.





Laura Veirs Talks to Herself on 'My Echo'

The thematic connections between these 10 Laura Veirs songs and our current situation are somewhat coincidental, or maybe just the result of kismet or karmic or something in the zeitgeist.


15 Classic Horror Films That Just Won't Die

Those lucky enough to be warped by these 15 classic horror films, now available on Blu-ray from The Criterion Collection and Kino Lorber, never got over them.


Sixteen Years Later Wayne Payne Follows Up His Debut

Waylon Payne details a journey from addiction to redemption on Blue Eyes, The Harlot, The Queer, The Pusher & Me, his first album since his 2004 debut.


Every Song on the Phoenix Foundation's 'Friend Ship' Is a Stand-Out

Friend Ship is the Phoenix Foundation's most personal work and also their most engaging since their 2010 classic, Buffalo.


Kevin Morby Gets Back to Basics on 'Sundowner'

On Sundowner, Kevin Morby sings of valleys, broken stars, pale nights, and the midwestern American sun. Most of the time, he's alone with his guitar and a haunting mellotron.


Lydia Loveless Creates Her Most Personal Album with 'Daughter'

Given the turmoil of the era, you might expect Lydia Loveless to lean into the anger, amplifying the electric guitar side of her cowpunk. Instead, she created a personal record with a full range of moods, still full of her typical wit.


Flowers for Hermes: An Interview with Performing Activist André De Shields

From creating the title role in The Wiz to winning an Emmy for Ain't Misbehavin', André De Shields reflects on his roles in more than four decades of iconic musicals, including the GRAMMY and Tony Award-winning Hadestown.


The 13 Greatest Horror Directors of All Time

In honor of Halloween, here are 13 fascinating fright mavens who've made scary movies that much more meaningful.


British Jazz and Soul Artists Interpret the Classics on '​Blue Note Re:imagined'

Blue Note Re:imagined provides an entrance for new audiences to hear what's going on in British jazz today as well as to go back to the past and enjoy old glories.


Bill Murray and Rashida Jones Add Another Shot to 'On the Rocks'

Sofia Coppola's domestic malaise comedy On the Rocks doesn't drown in its sorrows -- it simply pours another round, to which we raise our glass.


​Patrick Cowley Remade Funk and Disco on 'Some Funkettes'

Patrick Cowley's Some Funkettes sports instrumental renditions from between 1975-1977 of songs previously made popular by Donna Summer, Herbie Hancock, the Temptations, and others.


The Top 10 Definitive Breakup Albums

When you feel bombarded with overpriced consumerism disguised as love, here are ten albums that look at love's hangover.


Dustin Laurenzi's Natural Language Digs Deep Into the Jazz Quartet Format with 'A Time and a Place'

Restless tenor saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi runs his four-piece combo through some thrilling jazz excursions on a fascinating new album, A Time and a Place.


How 'Watchmen' and 'The Boys' Deconstruct American Fascism

Superhero media has a history of critiquing the dark side of power, hero worship, and vigilantism, but none have done so as radically as Watchmen and The Boys.


Floodlights' 'From a View' Is Classicist Antipodal Indie Guitar Pop

Aussie indie rockers, Floodlights' debut From a View is a very cleanly, crisply-produced and mixed collection of shambolic, do-it-yourself indie guitar music.


CF Watkins Embraces a Cool, Sophisticated Twang on 'Babygirl'

CF Watkins has pulled off the unique trick of creating an album that is imbued with the warmth of the American South as well as the urban sophistication of New York.


Helena Deland Suggests Imagination Is More Rewarding Than Reality on 'Something New'

Canadian singer-songwriter Helena Deland's first full-length release Someone New reveals her considerable creative talents.


While the Sun Shines: An Interview with Composer Joe Wong

Joe Wong, the composer behind Netflix's Russian Doll and Master of None, articulates personal grief and grappling with artistic fulfillment into a sweeping debut album.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.