Dubbed the “Queen Of Electronic Soul” Billie Ray Martin’s sumptuous vocals have graced numerous classic tracks stretching back 20 years. Luckily the voice is as timeless as her energy is seemingly undimmed, with projects bursting forth left, right, and most often off centre. A solo top 20 in the states, a club night and DJ career, and now her new “Carpenters meets Kraftwerk” group “The Opiates”.
The name Opiates is obviously open to interpretation but the disappointingly mundane truth is its the name of one of Billie’s favourite albums (by Swedish post-rockers Anywhen). This instore performance marks the groups debut live outing, and the sizeable crowd huddled outside in the cold pays glowing testament to her fan-base. With her diva like persona, dramatic vocals, and detached style it wont come as a huge shock that she’s built up a loyal gay following over the years.
That’s not to say its an entirely gay crowd as demonstrated by the guy in the queue outside whispering at the top of his voice to his friends, “Oh my god I don’t believe there are so many Hetti’s here!” Indeed there are, not to mention “Hetti’s” like myself old enough to have had an Electribe 101 poster on their teenage bedroom wall.
As Billie – just visible peering over while checking her make up on the floor above – keeps the crowd waiting, the excitement builds noticeably. Whether this is in anticipation of the musical delights to come or just the inevitable result of all the static electricity generated by so many stubble chinned shaven headed gay men crammed together is open to question! ;). There’s not much time to ponder, as with a final puff of hair spray Billie appears, followed by co conspirator Robert Solheim.
A few syllables, a couple of lines and despite having not heard a note previously I’m sold, enraptured by hearing THAT voice in person. The new sound builds on the classic Electribe 101 template, so there’s a definite place for songwriting, but also a dry wit and intelligence you don’t often find in the pop charts. Their press release jokes that the group started as an ambient project before they decided “f…ck this, and wrote the kind of songs that moved them in cerebral as well as booty shaking ways.”
“I’m not Simone Choule” certainly comes under the cerebral tag inspired – Billie explains – by Polanski’s “The Tenant“. Solheim provides a perfectly judged backdrop for her plaintive voice, referencing Kraftwerk to such an extent that some synth swoops had me searching the memory banks to recall what ‘werk track it borrowed. Someone even turned up in a “I’m not Simone Choule” tshirt!
Elsewhere “Anatomy Of A Plastic Girl” thuds and beeps like a hidden cut on dance classic “Leftism” while simultaneously tackling plastic surgery or rather the pressure to have it.
Only the “get into Hollly wooo-oood” of “Oprahs Book Of The Month Club” jars, just crossing the line of overly forced clever lyrics, but even that gets down on the dancefloor mid way through.
The EP (available in all good stores) is a definite slow burner creeping up on you over repeated listens, so I’ll probably be declaring “Oprah” as genius by the time the weeks out.
By all accounts there’s even better to come with unheard “Rainy Days and Saturday” touted as a future hit. In a recent interview Billie talked about initially resisting the thought of chart success, “But then when we listened back we couldn’t stop singing it, waking up at three in the morning, and hearing that melody. We’ve now decided that we’re not shying away from being a crossover act…we’re not afraid of pop! “.
On the basis of this preview alone, the album “Hollywood Under The Knife” should be filed under the heading “eagerly awaited”.
The Opiates – “I’m not Simone Choule” (MP3)
Electribe 101 – “Talking With Myself (Frankie Knuckles mix)” (MP3)