Before we started this website, we compiled a list of albums we hoped would receive the reissue treatment. Tasmin Archer and her debut album Great Expectations rode high on the list. Released in 1992, it produced a worldwide hit, “Sleeping Satellite,” and the album spawned several superb B-sides for various releases around the world. Other singles may not have performed as well, but the songs “Arienne” and “Lords Of The New Church” found regular rotation on in-store playlists. The long-dreamed about reissue has finally arrived in the form of Sweet Little Truths: The EMI Recordings 1992-1996.
Archer’s aptly titled debut album Great Expectations arrived in 1992. Produced by Julian Mendelsohn, the album delivered eleven lushly produced numbers that offered mature singer/songwriter fare packaged in a delightful pop sheen. Opening track “Sleeping Satellite” is a moody, introspective, and deceptively complex number; superficially, one could hear it as a love song. Dig deeper, and you soon discover the song to be a very thought-provoking number about ecology and man’s destructive nature. Rather cerebral stuff, of course, especially for an international hit single.
The rest of Great Expectations lives up to the opening track’s promise of thoughtful, intelligent song. “Lords Of The New Church” is a catchy, upbeat rocker that deals with false prophets, “In Your Care” is a blunt number dealing with child molestation, while “Steeltown” deals with the desolation of the working poor. Other songs, such as the delightful love song “Arienne” and the introspective “Ripped Apart,” offer takes on human relationships. The four studio b-sides could have easily enhanced Great Expectations; the folk blues of “Man At The Window” proving to be a lost jewel, and the acoustic McCartney-style ditty “Real Oh So Real” is not to be missed. For a debut album, only one misstep can be found; “The Harder You Climb” is an upbeat hip-hop minded number, and while the lyrics are fine, the arrangement feels awkward.
Shipbuilding would be her next major release and would serve as a Rosetta Stone. Released as a four-song EP in Europe, it contained four Elvis Costello covers: “Deep Dark Truthful Mirror,” “All Grown Up,” “New Amsterdam,” and the title track. If listened to alongside Great Expectations, one soon realizes Archer is easily Costello’s equal. Her American label expanded the EP into an album, adding four superb live recordings. Although meant as a stopgap compilation, it’s a fine album that stands up as an album proper. (So too does the third disc in this set, offering up various single mixes, alternate versions, and live tracks, all primarily from Great Expectations.)
But for American fans such as your truly, Sweet Little Truths offers a true reward—Archer’s second album, Bloom. Although recorded in the United States with producer Mitchell Froom, relations between the label and Archer had soured, and EMI passed on an American release. The label considered it uncommercial when compared to Great Expectations and delayed its release. When it came out nearly a year after completion, EMI did not promote it. Such a move virtually ensured that the album would slip out unnoticed, and that’s exactly what happened. Thus, anxious American fans never heard it (myself included) unless they shelled out excessive import fees—but only if they could find it. (And they never could, sadly.)
Bloom indeed sounds quite different from its predecessor. Froom’s production skills wonderfully suit Archer’s style. Though the album sounds far less immediate than Great Expectations, it shares that album’s warmth, albeit in a different manner. Mendelsohn’s production style emphasized lush arrangements that enhanced Archer’s singing. Froom, however, prefers a more stripped-down arrangement, often enhancing his work with unique rhythms and percussion. Bloom is chockablock with slinky rhythms and seductive melodies, resulting in an overall more blues-minded affair. Highlights include the sexy “Rain Falling,” the heartbreaking “Breaking My Back,” the stunning piano ballad “In Your Garden,” the laid-back jazzy “I Would Love To Be Right,” and the raucous “Memory” offers up a funky drum pattern that recalls Froom’s work with Suzanne Vega.
While Bloom should have been the second album in a vast and rewarding catalog, it was not to be. Unsurprisingly, she parted ways with EMI shortly after the album’s release. She intended to take a short break, but developed writer’s block. She would eventually return with a superb third album, On. (We were extremely fortunate to conduct a rare interview when that album came out, which you can read here.)
Hands down, Sweet Little Truths stands as one of this year’s finest reissues. It documents the work of a talented musician who unfortunately fell victim to a label that didn’t understand or appreciate what they had. For the uninitiated, the collection serves as a comprehensive document of one of the most underrated voices of the 1990s.
Purchase Tasmin Archer Sweet Little Truths: The EMI Recordings 1992-1996: Cherry Red