After hearing the New York Post rave about our own Emma Dean, I knew her sophomore album Dr Dream and the Imaginary Pop-Cabaret must be something special. But I wasn’t prepared for exactly what a magical album it is.

Emma Dean pushes the envelope to create a record that lies somewhere between old school Tori Amos and the Wicked soundtrack. That sounds like a bizarre combination, and I suppose it is, but on listening to the record it all makes perfect sense.

Just like those early Tori Amos recordings, Emma keeps proceedings moving along with her driving piano notes and an innate theatricality. On the surface there doesn’t seem to be the angst of a Little Earthquakes, but don’t dismiss it as frothy stuff. The lyrics plumb some really dark themes, but they’re presented with such color and flamboyance that the casual listener might miss them. Of course, that only makes this complex recording richer on each listen.

Tunes like “Stuck in the Mud” and the single “Sincerely Fearful” seem like they’re made for a modern Broadway musical. Again there’s that great sense of theatre that seems bigger than an album, but it’s not as affected as an old-fashioned show tune might be.

“Something They Can Hold” is another tune worthy of note, a track with such emotional intensity and visceral lyrics that it left me floored.

With Tori Amos mellowing in her middle age, I’m thrilled to see an artist of Emma Dean’s talent picking up the baton. We needed a strong, independent, and individual female voice on the musical landscape, and knowing she’s Australian makes it all the better. Dr Dream and the Imaginary Pop-Cabaret is a very special CD that won’t be leaving my stereo any time soon.

Image source: BigPond Music