Even before her last album, 2011's Make a Scene, Sophie Ellis-Bextor had intimated that she felt constrained by "the dance stuff", and with Wanderlust she's taken a do-or-die step away from it. Produced by Ed Harcourt – hence the preponderance of sweeping string-and-piano arrangements – this set of minor-chord melancholia often sounds like the product of another artist entirely. The Russian typography on the sleeve is in keeping with the wintry drama within – and dramatic it is. The opening Birth of an Empire crashes into life with a gloomy cello/guitar fanfare, to which Ellis-Bextor's unadorned vocal adds imperial hauteur. Hauteur has always been her default mode, but on this album, free of Auto-Tune and effects, the empress has been defrocked – she sounds absolutely vulnerable. And, save for a few innocuous tracks that fall into the "dance stuff" category, that's the way it stays. The quavering piano ballad Young Blood takes her into Adele territory, surprisingly successfully, but what really sells this album is its forays into eastern European-style pathos – Wrong Side of the Sun, for one, is quite a thing.
Caroline Sullivan writes about rock and pop for the Guardian