Poor old Alexis Strum. The eternal bridesmaid of British pop music, her whole back catalogue could feature in Great Forgotten Pop Songs Of Our Time. Leaving behind a trail of unreleased singles, shelved albums and general almost-but-not-quite-ness, Strum’s work still sounds as timeless and beautiful as it did when it was first (almost) released – making picking just one song to write about rather difficult.
Strum was first dropped after her more poppy debut single and album (the partly Xenomania-produced Addicted) never saw the light of day but come second album time, it looked like her fortunes might change. One song was made the theme tune to a much-hyped new ITV drama, she had a column on PopJustice, some old songs had been covered by Kylie and Rachel Stevens and the video for her lastest single, It Could Be You, was in the top ten most requested chart on The Box. Meanwhile, with the likes of Dido, Katie Melua, KT Tunstall and Lucie Silvas ruling the airwaves, it seemed that the market was ripe for talented female singer-songwriters. In a true mark of ‘making it’, I was even set to interview her!
Of course, in the great tradition of Britishness, this could only mean one thing – it would all go tits up. The release of It Could Be You was shelved, the release of parent album Cocoon was shelved, revised to feature the theme tune, then ummm… shelved again. Her record company couldn’t even get this right – both times, it was accidentally released to online stores, meaning us Strum devotees were able to legally purchase her material. And thank God for the record company’s ineptitude as Cocoon is a gem. (Needless to say and probably most crushingly for Strum, I didn’t get to interview her either).
(Sadly, there is no official trace of It Could Be You on Youtube… so here it is, relegated to soundtracking a Twilight fan video. Sigh)
It Could Be You is trademark Strum at her best. Her ballads, although lovelorn and haunting, are never boring, sappy or sickly-sweet; they burn with a sincerity and honesty that sets her apart from the rest of the field. Whilst lacking the booming Tedder-penned epic quality that has come to define a great ballad these days, Strum’s songs use interesting melodies and subtle synths to keep things interesting and although more than capable of writing a clever lyric (Bad Haircut, Nothing Good About This Goodbye), it’s the stunning simplicity of It Could Be You that makes it so easy to fall in love with.
‘Could I borrow your oxygen, I wanna breathe what you breathe’ is as arrestingly heart-stopping a first line as you could wish for. Yes, it’s an obvious reference to make (sanctimoniously declaring ‘you’re my oxygen’ is practically a requirement in ballads these days) but it perfectly captures that headlong rush of being in love. Strum’s vocals are always chillingly flawless but here, she shines with a delicate anguish on lines like ‘the kiss I almost taste’ and ‘the way your voice speaks to me inside/I cannot hide’.
It’s a simple idea, beautifully executed, with a dreamy quality that positively mists up your speakers.
Meanwhile, Alexis Strum (despite having a stonking name destined for pop) has given up music and is pursuing a career in acting. Well done, record companies. And my entirely legally-purchased music files no longer work because they were bought from Woolworths, which went bankrupt, taking my media usage rights with them. Well done, DRM copy-protection. In short, the only good thing left about this whole sorry affair is the music – and thankfully, very good music it is too. For anyone else, it wouldn’t be worth the trouble. For Strum, the struggles only add to its shadowy brilliance.
UK Chart Peak: Unreleased
Key lyrics: ‘Could I borrow your oxygen, I wanna breathe what you what breathe’
Get more: Alexis Strum – Nothing Good About This Goodbye, Bad Haircut, Stay Until Summer