Source: Melody Maker
Author: Ian Gittins
Date: 9 February 1991.
French & Saunders took the piss out her, Q readers lover her, so who the hell does Tanita Tikaram think she is? Ian Gittins talks to the songstress about her new image and the new found optimism reflected in her forthcoming album "Everybody's Angel".
As every hairdresser worth their shears will tell you, a radical change of hairstyle usually heralds an equally radical shift of persona. Tanita Tikaram's new look appears to confirm the idea of a new, more extrovert songstress, determined to rid herself of her image as the too-cosy Home Counties' charlatan, or as a Q readers' darling, or the sexiest lady poetess on the block, or the painstaking chronicler of the mundane, or just the nice, gifted girl from Basingstoke who came into the public eye a tad too early.
Tanita has been much criticised, although much of the flak has been cruelly unmerited. Critics cried, "Sixth-form poetry!" when her pained couplets first saw the light of day in 1988. Even they had to admit Tikaram's excuse was valid. She was, after all, still a sixth-former at the time.
The nice girl then got scooped out of her provincial pond and airlifted around the word. "Ancient Heart" and its weaker follow-up "The Sweet Keeper", forced her to parade her adolescent rhyme schemes and fledging thoughts in public and she became huge in Sussex and Scandinavia.
Tikaram's always had her faults. Her insights can be too flimsy, too prone to the homespun homily, just as her music can be an austere trudge. Yet it's often forgotten just how young she was when she started this game. The girl hooked on Virginia Woolf and Leonard Cohen was forced to share the adolescent embarrassments most of us clear out of our systems in private.
This week she releases her third neat and ordered LP, "Everybody's Angel". As you'd expect, it yields few radical departures. That's not her style. Tanita Tikaram sticks to her blueprint of the pensive provincial soul musing out loud. The album veers endearingly from the sweet ("Sunface") to the downright daft ("Hot Pork Sandwiches"), and always there's that trademark sexy growl, the awkward self-consciousness, the brave, if foolhardy, search for enlightenment.
"This LP was very intense for me," she explains. "I wrote it inside a month, and I wanted to write all the time. I could tell I've changed a lot. I see things more positively now than ever before. Maybe it's just growing up and accepting more. Coming out of the darkness into the light!
"I feel more in control of myself than before," she decides. "I'm incredibly naive and innocent still, but I've gained something. If I walk into a room full of people I'm not going to run under the table any more like I used to. But I'm equally not sure I'd be the most sociable person in the world."
Tanita's songs are still very introverted: five of the titles on this LP contain the word me and she seems reluctant to venture outside the confines of her inner world.
"I can't write anything that doesn't stem from myself, because trying to be convincing about something I don't know about would be false. The emotional truth of a song is more important to me than any noble ambitions it may have."
Is Tanita Tikaram's inner world a happy place right now?
"Yeah, it's a good place!" she giggles. "But that's our salvation, isn't it? When my daily business is really mundane, I always have that inner world, but I never think of it as an escape. That's the odd thing. People's inner lives are very real to them, I think. I mean, I don't want to sound like a weirdo, but what is real and what isn't?"
How often does Tanita Tikaram find her life utterly peculiar?
"Every day!" she nods earnestly. "I always find it wierd. A friend told me the strangest thing about me is I always find everything so weird. I react to everything as if it were very odd. I don't know where that comes from, but I am always surprised at everything. I'm amazed at why people do things."
Can you transmit this sense of wonder to your sober music?
"I don't know. It's hard to tell: it's in my voice, but I don't know of people pick it up. The songs shape the way I think about things. I know I can feel a certain spirit on stage now. It happens more and more. I feel this need to make sense of my actions which I've never felt before, and I don't know where that comes from.
"I dunno," she adds with a self-deprecating laugh, "maybe I'm getting weird or something!"
Is Tanita Tikaram as downcast and melancholy as "Everybody's Angel" often sounds?
"Well, I don't agree the LP's melancholy," she argues. "I think it's really joyful. But no, I'm not often unhappy. I think I'm the opposite. I'd just be so boring otherwise, wouldn't I? I have to deal with people every day. Being depressed would make my life so difficult!
"I think maybe that's how I've changed over the last few years. I've learnt there's so much hardship you can give yourself and it's not worth it. I no longer see things on such a downer. I'm always surprised when people assume I'm depressive. I've never thought of myself like that, nor have people around me."
Not even when French and Saunders perform mocking deadpan dissertations of "Twist In My Sobriety"?
"I just found that so peculiar!" marvels Tikaram. "I've no idea why they chose me. But even odder was that Bobby Davro made fun of me! I mean, are his audience likely to know who I am? I never feel that famous."
As "Everybody's Angel" proves, Tanita Tikaram's musical limitation is her personal strength; she's extraordinarily self-possessed.
What would have happened to this resilient star if "Ancient Heart" had bombed and she'd reverted to her original plan of attending university? Where would she be now?
"I don't know what I'd have done," she confesses, "and that scares me a bit. I'm frightened of not knowing what I might have become. I'm just grateful that what I do now makes me see my life from so many angles. Anyway, I'd have been Manchester now, so maybe I'd have joined one of those Manchester bands! Wow! What a scary thought!"
Tanita Tikaram joins Happy Mondays? Stranger things have happened. But not many.
Tanita Tikaram's new LP "Everybody's Angel" is released this week on east west. A single from the LP "Only The Ones We Love" is out now.