The lineage of women who have carried the torch of “blue-eyed soul” is storied. Rochdale reared Lisa Stansfield’s tenure has always been beloved, if sometimes undervalued. It’s a shame as Stansfield’s romantically rich tone keeps her alongside Dusty Springfield and Teena Marie respectfully.
In retrospect, Stansfield’s soul roots weren’t what she first planted when she tried to breach the music marketplace. Forming in 1984, Blue Zone’s first (and only) recording (Big Thing, 1988) seemed precipice-poised for success. Comprised of Stansfield and instrumentalists Ian Devaney and Andy Morris, the trio might’ve been too similar in style to an already crowded sophisti-pop and house music scene.
Appearing on one of those mentioned British dance cliques tracks in 1989, Stansfield graced “People Hold On”. The outfit was called Coldcut and their single with Stansfield caused a delicious stir. “People Hold On” restored faith in Stansfield at her label base―via Blue Zone―Arista Records. She inked a solo deal with the company.
Graciously stepping behind her, Devaney and Morris took up production and co-writing duties; the upshot of this union produced Lisa Stansfield’s debut Affection.
If one were to remark on the renaissance of English soul and dance that sprang from the ether in 1989, the year Affection appeared, it’d be with fondness. Two indisputable anthems materialized from this era that crossed barriers: Soul II Soul’s “Back to Life” (with Caron Wheeler as the lead vocalist) and Stansfield’s “All Around the World”. The latter hit like a hurricane on both sides of the pond.
Suddenly, the classy, down to earth lass became one of the faces of the U.K. soul music revolution. Affection, of its time, was tempered in the flames of (black) dance and new jack swing, but with an approachability that endeared listeners across the generational spectrum.
Stansfield later aligned herself to a much more vogue and vintage style. Enter Real Love (1991). Hear the “Change”. The sumptous single, one-upped by the sober silkiness of “All Woman,” betrayed Stansfield’s Philadelphia fetish. However, it wasn’t just a 1970’s R&B revival; Stansfield (with Devaney and Morris still behind her) cut the old with the new (read: adult contemporary pop). Stansfield’s transition from semi-club siren to chanteuse had been completed.
Home of the John Barry co-penned “In All the Right Places,” So Natural (1993) extended Stansfield’s plush Philly playtime. The long player fare, as on her previous two LPs, went from strength to strength.
Whether sensually rhythmic (“I Give You Everything”) or designer disco (“Marvelous and Mine”), Stansfield carved her own space in R&B and pop. Of course Arista Records fumbled and denied So Natural U.S. citizenship; it was puzzling since Real Love had been a gold score Stateside. Stansfield’s American traction never recovered from Arista’s ill-advised maneuver. In England, the record maintained a polite presence with its sales. Andy Morris, a part of the artistic team behind Stansfield’s records, left the fold after So Natural; the LP consummated Stansfield and Devaney’s personal union too. They’d marry in 1998.
To go back a year before Stansfield and Devaney’s matrimonial bliss, Stansfield released her fourth, eponymous spinner in 1997. Lisa Stansfield became her third album in America and first there in five years; it’d also be her last U.S. appearance.
Pulling back the ballads that occupied the two preceding LPs, Lisa Stansfield was (at that time) her most modern work. Buoyed by Stansfield’s hip-hop inflected version of Barry White’s “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up,” Stansfield’s announcement of her return welcomed a bit of attitude. “Never, Never Gonna Give You Up’s” subsequent video matched the track in its passionate intensity visually. “The Real Thing” became the “single blockbuster” from the effort and there was even a respectable Phyllis Hyman cover of “You Know How to Love Me”.
Stansfield tried her hand at acting―an occupation she’d explore in the coming decade―with 1999’s ‘Swing’. The film was fine, but its soundtrack was even better. Jazz fit Stansfield like a glove and she gave confident turns at established classics by The Four Tops (“Baby I Need Your Lovin’”)―her own compositions seared too (“Two Years Too Blue”).
What came next was Stansfield’s return to the dancefloor, as such, with her fifth LP, Face Up (2001).
Her first album in, effectively, her third decade, it wasted no time making new R&B tricks work for her.
Examples included the explosive “I’ve Got Something Better” (her finest album opener ever?) and the divine “Let’s Just Call It Love”. The record, though fantastic, was an unequivocal miss commercially. Content wasn’t the problem, Stansfield had become a refined woman in an industry known for its sexism and ageism. Undaunted, she celebrated her Arista stay with a customary “greatest hits” package entitled Biography (2003). The set collected majority of her singles, the tracklisting varied from British to American editions. Stansfield’s discography got a renewed life too; all five of her studio records were remastered and available individually or in a collector’s box. It was the perfect end to her time at Arista Records.
The following year, Stansfield signed to Trevor Horn’s ZTT Records. Trevor Horn, known for groundbreaking collaborations with Seal, Grace Jones and Tina Turner, turned his charms on Stansfield. The fruit of this union bore Stansfield’s sixth album, The Moment (2004). While some greet it with indifference today, it wisely married the adult contemporary of Real Love with the modish tweaks of Face Up.
Stansfield’s rendition of Prefab Sprout’s “When Love Breaks Down” was a highlight; the lead singer of Prefab Sprout (Paddy McAloon) was kind enough to write an additional verse for Stansfield’s cover. Regrettably, the album did not perform well and Stansfield stepped into semi-retirement and her acting ambitions.
In late 2013 the rumors were true, Lisa Stansfield had come back to music. Stansfield partnered with her husband Ian and session-player / producer stalwarts Jerry Hey and Peter Mokran. The indie-issued Seven is Stansfield at her most concise and stripped. The last descriptor is heard on the songs “Why” and “The Rain” that had Stansfield engaged in that new sonic context.
However, that traditional Stansfield magic popped on the flavorful “Can’t Dance”. It might give Face Up’s “I’ve Got Something Better” a run for its money as Stansfield’s best album starter.
Lisa Stansfield, now 47, has taken her place in the pantheon of “ivory soul singers”.
[Editor’s Note: I attempted to tell Lisa’s musical story with a collection of her singles and album cuts. Sadly, thanks to video restrictions (by country) and certain songs not being available (via Youtube or Daily Motion), not everything has a hyperlink. Seven is available digitally and physically (as an import); for current news on Lisa Stansfield, visit her official site.-QH]