Alison Moyet, “Solid Wood”

The only real criteria for coverage in my “Obscurity Knocks” series (lesser-known songs by well-known artists) is that the artist has to have been popular, i.e.-having charted in the top 40 at least once.  Although she’s had many hits in the UK, Alison Moyet just squeaks by where the US is concerned (1985’s “Invisible”,# 31). Granted, she’s better known here for her work with synth-pop duo Yaz(oo) (“Only You”, “Situation”, neither of which made the top 40, inexplicably).

Just as it was refreshing to hear Moyet delve back into electronica with last year’s The Minutes, in 1995, it was an unexpected delight to discover her commanding, soulful vocal on a primarily guitar-based track. “Solid Wood” was one of two new songs included on Singles, a superb greatest hits collection (the other was a lush cover of “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” set to a hip-hop beat). Both songs flopped when released as UK singles, “Solid Wood” only reaching # 44 and the Roberta Flack song not charting at all (the album, however, went to # 1).

Anticipating the direction she’d take on her next (and in my opinion, best) album Hometime, “Solid Wood” has all the drama and urgency you’d expect from Moyet, but the arrangement (produced by Ian Broudie of The Lightning Seeds), heavy on guitars and soulful organ is the warmest-sounding she ever attempted to that point. The lyrics reference a past lover that Moyet purposely let slip through her fingers with a mix of defense (“Who ever I was then / she won’t be back again so let her go”) and acceptance (“I wouldn’t change you if I could”). As usual, it’s the singer who gets this complexity across, expressing joy, wistfulness, sorrow and resolve towards the situation. It concludes with the instrumentation fading away until all we hear is Moyet’s voice stretching out the song’s title–one of the more poignant and affecting moments in her discography.

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