Required listening: Swing Out Sister’s ‘Shapes and Patterns’


Seeing Swing Out Sister live last year was one of the shows I was most excited to get to see; I’ve enjoyed the musicianship and quality of the act for decades, and it was a wish that finally came true (the fact that it happened on my birthday made it even more fun for me).

I’ve written here about some of their music, and they’re working on a new album, even sharing with fans parts of the process as they go, but I still find myself drifting back to the album that cemented my enjoyment of the act, even has many of their other albums come up for repeated listens.  That album is “Shapes and Patterns.”

The album is the only one I’ve legitimately bought three times.  It was one of my cassette purchases when that was still my primary form of listening (I hadn’t quite made the switch to buying CDs in 1997; none of the cars in the household had a CD player and it would be another year before I started working at Circuit City and buying electronics at a much more rapid clip). I then bought it on CD, and when the iTunes store for Windows opened in 2003, it was the first album I bought (in part to compare the quality of the sound vs. the previous purchases).

Why “Shapes and Patterns?” Part of the album saw a return to the more uplifting mood and feel of some of the earlier material they had recorded, like “Breakout,” while continuing the more organic production and orchestration of their more recent efforts to that point, such as “The Living Return.” The background vocals began to take the shape of their later efforts as well, which makes this album a sort of bridge between eras of SOS and was the culmination of a cycle that actually saw this as their only release that was led by the U.S. division of Mercury (other releases had been handled by the U.K. or, later, the Japanese arm).

The entire album is cohesive, pleasant and listenable, and shows the level of care and quality they put into the music. It propelled a period of life for me, which adds a nostalgic quality to what already exists in much of their repertoire (they’ve always had an affinity for the sounds of different eras, particularly the ’60s).

For those who’ve seen the posts by me, but aren’t sure where to begin, this is my recommendation for where to begin. It’s sophisticated pop at it’s finest, by an act that’s been doing it well for a quarter of a century and counting.

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