Prior to listening to Middle Child I was unfamiliar with Eliza Jaye, so I approached the record with a curious mind. Forty minutes and eleven tracks later my curiosity was piqued further as I stepped out of the musical kaleidoscope I had just passed through. This album is a beautifully crafted, sometimes breathtaking, but undeniably poignant journey through luscious soundscapes. The poignancy comes from the fact that Eliza Jaye succumbed to cancer in February of this year. This posthumous release is the follow up to her 2013 debut The Seed. Produced by Joe Gibb (Leftfield/Catatonia), the album was recorded in Mumbles, South Wales.
Middle Child begins with the gentle guitar strum of country rock opener ‘Sugar Cane’, a catchy singalong love song where Jaye’s raw twangy vocals rise above guitar and violin backing. It immediately draws you in. Before you can catch a breath, ‘Run Like The Nile’ hits you full on with a racing punk beat and a style that echoes late 80s Transvision Vamp, with a voice channelling Patti Smith. Here the vocals are delivered in a punchy staccato and you can feel the undulations of the mosh pit.
‘Tenderness’ follows both in song title and mood. Above dreamy synth and harp, I found myself lost in Jaye’s voice in this soothing lullaby. Despite my lack of connection to her previous music, this song filled me with genuine sadness for the loss of this Australian born talent at the tender age of 43. Listen with headphones and be swept away by the sheer beauty of this track.
Leave the headphones on for ‘Deja vu’, a track that swept me away into the dark dreamscape of a scene from a Tarantino movie. Producer Joe Gibbs said: “‘Deja vu’ was written while in Perpignan, in the south of France. The ambience of the place, the vastness of the sea, the smell of lemon sugar crepes and the carousel painted with mermaids were all distilled into the writing of the song.” I agree. The breathy vocals and the picked guitar are so mesmerising.
The album is full of surprises and changes in musical direction. On track 6, ‘Tigers’, you are stirring (or should that be shaking?) a martini in a smoke filled club as Jaye belts out a Bond-esque ballad above a string backing. As the final bars of the song fade, you half expect to hear the dulcet tones of Sean Connery.
By ‘Espionage’ we are back in the rock music landscape but this is more upbeat, the guitar evoking Bryan Adams or Peter Buck in early 90s REM. As the bouncy rock vocals exit stage left, on steps Jaye in 70s-disco inspired mode with ‘I do’. This track probably showcases her vocals more than any other song on this album with high notes of “I do” soaring above a bass guitar rhythm.
Middle Child ends with a trilogy of quiet dreamy soothing tracks. ‘Orchid’ is a stunningly arranged track with violin, an instrument Jaye studied from childhood, swirling behind a bossanova beat. The rhythm and Jaye’s voice transports you to the beaches of South America and the spice markets of the Middle East. The gentle tones continue through ‘The Desert’ as we take a stroll with Jaye, the stripped back arrangement and the lyrics reminding us of the simplicity of life.
To add to the poignancy, the album closes with ‘Take the Time’ a song which Jaye wrote at the age of 12. Even without the back story, the angelic notes would move any listener. After the journey this album has taken us on, we are are bathing in the gentle glow of someone who loved life. Jaye reaches the upper ranges of her vocals as she sings the final words “To happiness.” Those words and the album as a whole will stay with you in the silence that follows.
Words by Andrew Butcher
Check out Andrew’s blog here.
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