I’ve always found that some people are more into music than others, but despite this, everyone seems to have a voice that they can hit on that really makes them feel something or just “gets” them somehow. I present the voices that mean the most to me, for a variety of reasons. Bjork: My personal favourite, but also one I feel has been sadly shoehorned into that rather Philistine category of “kooky” by those who deem her music too “difficult”. In truth she is an extremely versatile performer, seemingly a woman of a thousand voices and yet only one all at the same time. It may make sense more to think of her voice as much as an instrument as much as any guitar or piano, not just a speed dating vehicle for her lyrics. With this in mind, it brings a real humanity to songs such as “Joga”, a swooping techno-ballad ode to friendship, and fierce political conviction to the apocalyptic thud of “Declare Independence”. Most of all, it is shown at it’s best when she wears her heart on her sleeve, which she does more often than her detractors may think, giving a song like “Pagan Poetry” an air of fantasy, longing and above all, real eroticism. Few singers have the guts to be so bold, period.
Shara Nelson: Hearing this voice for the first time is bound to have an effect on anyone. Coming along at a time when British soul music (with the notable exception of Soul II Soul) was in dire straits, Massive Attack brought something truly British to the table. True, there were the influences of dub, rap, hip-hop, soul and electronica, but the amalgam and unshowy nature of it was something new. And as the centrepiece of this operation was Shara Nelson, a woman with an almost frightening level of emotion in her vocals, even the simplest “yeah” or “uh” conjuring up shivers. Even those familiar with the real divas of the past like James, Fitzgerald, Franklin, Simone and Knight couldn’t deny that this was a once-in-a-lifetime voice. Upon hearing “Unfinished Sympathy” it is clear of her (and their) genius; the lyrics – “Like a soul without a mind/In a body without a heart/I’m missing every part” – may be abstract,, but what you don’t doubt is the emotion behind them, what ever has happened to her protagonist, it hurts, and you actually care. It surely ranks as one of the best singles (and songs) of any period. Even in her short-lived solo career she managed some interesting feats: producing a debut album of such depth and uncompromising openness that even her take on Motown with (rather oddly) Bob Stanley and Pete Wiggs gave birth to the haunting “One Goodbye In Ten”. Only in Britain.
Roisin Murphy: Mostly known for her rather eccentric wardrobe choices and of course the mega-hit “Sing It Back” as the voice of Moloko, Ms Murphy is an artist of underrated vocal and musical ability, being both an instrumentalist and producer-arranger as well as a singer.Early Moloko treats such as “Fun For Me” and “Dominoid” may not have been to everyone’s taste, being in a hip-hop/trip-hop style very of it’s time, but did show the early promise in their wobbly vibes and Roisin’s rather Earth Kitt-esque stylings, but it was “Sing It Back” that quite rightly got her (and partner Mark Brydon) noticed, albeit through an Ibiza-inspired remix by Boris Dlugosch. As stylish as it still sounds, it is better experienced in it’s original incarnation, which is really nothing more than a bongo, bass and diggeredoo, giving centre stage to her unashamedly sexy lyrics (“When you are ready, I will surrender/Take me and do as you will”).