Illumina is the Alisha’s Attic album that its predecessor, Alisha Rules the World, should have been. Like a fresh breeze blowing away the occasional bad vibes, catchphrase crutches, cartoon megalomania, and chest-beating Morrisette-isms, Illumina plays as the perfect soundtrack to a sunny afternoon. It is as much an improvement over their debut LP as it was over the sisters’ 1989 Eurodance debut, “Sugar Daddy.” The well-known maxim about having your entire life to make your first album but less than a year to complete the second is often proven by stacks of disappointing follow-ups and numerous careers broken beyond recovery, but for Alisha’s Attic, it has worked much to their advantage to have departed from their stockpile.
Illumina reveals some luxurious harmonies and vocal confidence. The opening piece, “The Incidentals,” shows a perfect economy of words and bears a luscious arrangement. Karen and Shellie Poole are as benefitted by the acoustic, gentle approach of “Shameless” and the cautionary “Lay Low” as they are by the keyboard-propelled “Going Down” and the lush sounds of “Lazy Head.” The cleverly autobiographical “Wish I Were You” has an appealing way of coaxing its words out, using just the right amount of give at the right time. “The Incidentals” is another example of this and it’s refreshing to hear, given how many female vocalists are content with merely shrieking. The Poole sisters capably emphasize without a dependency on increasing volume and even with more intense songs like “Resistor” and “Air & Angels” their close harmonies are the focal point.
The only two disappointing tracks on Illumina were handled by Alisha Rules the World producer Dave Stewart. The rest of Illumina has an effervescent quality about it, but “Barbarella” and “Do I Lie?” are slightly dulled in comparison. “Barbarella” tries to be an update of “Celluloid Heroes” but does not adequately substantiate what Roger Vadim’s infamous 1968 B-movie has to do with a future where “e-mail and dot-coms capture the world,” unless there’s an invisible key involved. Part of the chorus of “Do I Lie?” (“It’s like that, babe/Do I lie to you?”) has the same scansion as “Hey, babe/Take a walk on the wild side.” “Do I Lie?” is a bad reminder of the tetchiness of ARTW’s relationship songs and although the line “I try and find your excuses kind of interesting” is nice, the vocals are choppy and unpleasant in comparison with the smooth articulation demonstrated on the rest of the LP.
The track immediately following “Do I Lie,” “Karmically Close,” is one of Illumina’s strongest songs, and perhaps Aa’s quintessential accomplishment to date, irresistibly balanced between wicked and winsome. The dreamy “Outta These Clouds” (and to some extent the spikier “Dive In”) are reminiscent of Kate Bush circa Never For Ever and “Me & the Dolphins” is a coolly psychedelic experience.
Two tracks augment the Japanese edition: “Scared Like Me” (a superb sounding production with great vocals) and “It’s Not Your Fault.”
©2000 Rodney E Griffith. All rights reserved.