Review: “Sensational” by Michelle Gayle (CD, 1997)

Today’s Pop Rescue from an unknown fate, is 1997’s second album Sensational by British R&B singer and actress, Michelle Gayle. Will this album be Sensational, or Do You Know something better to listen to? Read on…

Michelle Gayle - Sensational (1997) album
Michelle Gayle – Sensational (1997) album.

This 12 track CD opens with the slow soft beats and acoustic guitars of Fly Away. Michelle is in on the microphone close up as she gives some breathy pseudo-rapping. The repetitive guitar sequence works well as a hook for the song, as some seriously Toni Braxton-esque vocals layer in. Michelle’s vocals sound great here when she’s singing this smooth slow song, backed with occasional dreamy synths that fit with the ‘fly away’ theme. We’re off to a nice start.

More acoustic guitars usher in second single Do You Know. This time, the song has higher tempo and deserves some foot tapping. At times, this style of acoustic guitar washes and strong female vocals over the top, reminds me a bit of Natalie Imbruglia (who would make her debut with Torn 9mths later). The track is upbeat and lets Michelle show off some of her vocal range and power alongside the softer soulful vocals. The track reached #6 in the UK’s singles chart.

The album’s titular, third, and final single Sensational is next and this throws in a gospel style choir for the chorus before cutting to shuffling percussion for the verse. The track gave Michelle a not-quite sensational #14 UK hit in 1997, but it is still quite catchy. The strumming guitars, backing vocalists, hand-clapped breakdown, and the shuffling beat help to keep this one bright and breezy.

Working Overtime follows this, and we’re now introduced to some male vocalists ‘Say what?‘, and a thick funky bass and disco funk party sound. Here we hear Michelle in a nice upbeat funky track, which works so well with the remix of Happy Just To Be With You (later in the album). With some remixes, this could have been an excellent single.

Up next is Don’t Keep Me Waiting, and this plunges us into ballad/ballast zone. Michelle puts in a nice enough performance, but the song feels quite paint-by-numbers stylistically, and the heartfelt creaking vocals really makes this quite generic and the kind of album filler you can find on nearly all albums by American women.

Then it’s No Place Like Home, and this gives us another great funky track, laden with a nice bass, and plenty of record scratching. Whilst Michelle’s vocals don’t really travel very far along her range until some big vocals in the mid section where she momentarily takes on the spirit of En Vogue, the song is quite gentle and chilled, which works quite nicely with the lyrical references to being glad of coming home. It’s another nice little track although at 6m 8s, it does feel a bit too long.

That’s followed by It’s A High, and musically this song is ‘a high’ with sweeping disco funk strings, brass bursts, layered vocals, and funky bass line. ‘Step to the beat’ and ‘get on your feet’ sings Michelle and it’s a great track. There’s even an almost-Thriller mid-section too. This is a lovely catchy track, and again, should have found its way to being a single.

Yesterday is next up, and as you might have suspected, it’s a ploddingly slow R&B ballad with all the usual suspect instruments. Michelle has some defiantly reflective lyrics to throw at her cheating partner, which slowly builds up towards the end where she gets the chance to show off some vocal power alongside her backing vocalists. It’s mostly as you’d expect for a ballad.

Following that is Talk It Over, which is a mid-tempo track. The snare-led beat shuffles along nicely, as Michelle gets to sing softly across it. She’s flanked by some some subtle backing singers that help to add warmth to her vocals here in this chilled out song. There’s a sample of the Isley BrothersFor The Love Of You in here, which perhaps helps to keep this song quite chilled out.

Guitar opens Fakin’ It with riff that’s repeated throughout giving a country music nod. It’s a simple song, seeing Michelle seemingly having an easy time on the mic, as she’s flanked by a simple beat, and plenty of whispering male vocalists who mostly say ‘sexy’. The track sadly doesn’t really evolve much from the initial idea, making it a bit dull.

Then it’s time for Fly Away (Interlude), which plays a lot on the acoustic guitar and breathy vocals from the opening track. For an interlude though, 3m 51s seems quite a long time. The track even has time to build up and bring in some percussive beats. It adds in some keyboard chords and soft drama drums. Still, it’s a gentle and waftingly dreamy song that would serve well to cover a tour’s costume change sequence. By the end of the song you get the feeling that the ‘fly away’ is a euphemism and that you’ve stumbled across the room where two people shag in the pile of coats at a party.

The album closes with a remix of Happy Just To Be With You – the original of which featured on her debut album. Here though, it’s the lead single Nigel Lowis remix. Including this track here was clearly a wise choice, despite it having been released in 1995, rather than close to this album’s release date. This remix single reached #11 UK and is a brilliant re-styling of the song incorporating the iconic bass sample of Sugarhill Gang‘s Rapper’s Delight. It’s a great end to the album.

Lead single, Happy Just To Be With You (Nigel Lowis Mix), 1995.


Over all, this album has some great tracks but it also seems to have an identity crisis.

Michelle had success with this album (faring better than her debut) but it’s a bit messy. Its 11 tracks (albeit 10 with a long interlude track, and a ‘bonus’ track of the lead single) hop from being schmaltzy ballad through to being disco funk catchy romp, and this is a bit disorientating. Michelle’s vocals are wielded well, showing off her vocal power as well as her warm soulful voice.

The highlights are led by Happy Just To Be With You (Nigel Lowis Mix) and aptly It’s A High, with No Place Like Home, Working Overtime, and Do You Know following closely, but songs like Don’t Keep Me Waiting and Yesterday dilute this with generic ballads that really could have been by whoever stepped into the studio that day.

Credit though to Michelle, who alongside Johnny Douglas, writes most of the songs here, it just feels a bit disjointed with the generic ballads breaking the flow. What I’d have preferred to get here would have been more upbeat dance/disco/pop songs that were the gold on her debut.

It’s a nice album, but not quite sensational.

Rated 4 stars - You're missing a treat!
  • 1997 UK ALBUM CHART PEAK: #17
  • POP RESCUE COST: £1.00 from a Poundland store.

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