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SOPHIE's Debut Album Is A Complex, Clamorous Pleasure


This is FRESH AIR. Rock critic Ken Tucker has a review of the debut album by the British singer-songwriter and producer known as SOPHIE. The album is called "Oil Of Every Pearl's Un-Insides." SOPHIE has produced music for Madonna, Lady Gaga, Vince Staples and others.


SOPHIE: (Singing) I don't mean to reproach you by saying this. I know that scares you. All of the big occasions you might have missed, no, I accept you. And I don't even need to know your reasons. It's OK. It's OK. It's OK. It's OK. I think you sometimes forget I would know you best. I hope you don't take this the wrong way, but I think your inside is your best side. Oh, was that a teardrop in your eye?

KEN TUCKER, BYLINE: That's "It's Okay To Cry," and it leads off this debut album by SOPHIE called "Oil Of Every Pearl's Un-Insides." A pretty ballad, "It's Okay To Cry" is the most conventional pop song on this collection. It lures you into the album. And once you're there, SOPHIE lets you hear what's really going on here.


SOPHIE: (Singing) Ponyboy. Pony. Pony. Boy. Pony. Pony. Boy. Boy. Lock up the door. Put the pony on all fours. Crack down the whip. Make the pony bite the bit. Spit on my face. Put the pony in his place. I am your toy, just a little ponyboy. Pony. Pony. Boy.

TUCKER: That's "Ponyboy," the second song on the album, and it's where you hear the kind of music that dominates this collection. Loud sounds full of clatter and harsh percussion are decorated by vocals distorted to sound either deeper or more shrill than a normal speaking voice. The composition titled "Whole New World/Pretend World" is just over nine minutes long. It both closes the album and serves as its most elaborate musical statement. A glorious assemblage of rumbles and squeaks set to a head-snapping beat, I can only give you a taste of its clamorous pleasure.


SOPHIE: (Singing) Promises. Promises might come true. Promises of a life uncontained, sea-foam blue. I looked into your eyes. I thought that I could see a whole new world. Whole new world. Whole new world. Whole new world. Whole new world. Whole new world. Whole new world. There's a whole new world. Whole new world. Whole new world.

TUCKER: As a producer, SOPHIE thrives on organized chaos. In a song such as "Faceshopping," SOPHIE edits together what sound like the roars of a herd of mechanical elephants and someone hitting everything in their garage with a hammer, all of this over a lyric about altering one's appearance, the face one presents to the world.


SOPHIE: (Singing) My face is the front of shop. My face is the real shop front. My shop is the face I front. I'm real when I shop my face. Artificial bloom. Hydroponic skin. Chemical...

TUCKER: SOPHIE's brand of noise pop does without the self-importance and macho gloom of so much techno music. For all the heaviness of the grinding, blaring sound effects, there's often a lightness, a playfulness, a grin beneath the grinding. Take, for example, the song called "Immaterial." At first, it sounds somewhat like SOPHIE's updated take on Madonna's "Material Girl," but it quickly goes on to become very much its own creation.


SOPHIE: (Singing) Immaterial girls, immaterial boys. Immaterial girls, immaterial boys. Immaterial girls, immaterial boys. Immaterial girls, immaterial boys. Immaterial girls, immaterial. Im-ma-ma-material, immaterial. Immaterial boys, immaterial girls. Im-ma-ma-material, immaterial. We're just im-ma-ma-material, immaterial. I could be anything I want. Immaterial boys, immaterial girls. Anyhow, anywhere, any place, anyone that I want. Im-ma-ma-material, immaterial. We're just, you could be me...

TUCKER: These compositions question the permanence of everything while also celebrating the complexity of everything, including society, gender and desire. I could be anything I want, SOPHIE sings on "Immaterial," and the rest of this album backs her up. In the midst of all the racket, there's an undercurrent of powerful serenity.

GROSS: Ken Tucker is critic at large for Yahoo TV. He reviewed SOPHIE's debut album called "Oil Of Every Pearl's Un-Insides." Tomorrow on FRESH AIR...


CONSTANCE WU: (As Rachel Chu) So your family is, like, rich?

HENRY GOLDING: (As Nick Young) We're comfortable.

WU: (As Rachel Chu) That is exactly what a super rich person would say.

GROSS: My guest will be Kevin Kwan, whose best-selling novel "Crazy Rich Asians" has been adapted into a new film. The story's inspired by his childhood in Singapore, growing up in a family that was crazy rich. I hope you'll join us.


GE LAN: (Singing in foreign language).

GROSS: FRESH AIR's executive producer is Danny Miller. Our technical director and engineer is Audrey Bentham. Our associate producer for digital media is Molly Seavy-Nesper. Roberta Shorrock directs the show. I'm Terry Gross.


LAN: (Singing in foreign language). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ken Tucker reviews rock, country, hip-hop and pop music for Fresh Air. He is a cultural critic who has been the editor-at-large at Entertainment Weekly, and a film critic for New York Magazine. His work has won two National Magazine Awards and two ASCAP-Deems Taylor Awards. He has written book reviews for The New York Times Book Review and other publications.
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