Holly Valance – State Of Mind

Released: 27th October 2003

Writers: Jeff Taylor / Mark Taylor / Steve Torch

Peak position: #8

Chart run: 8-12-21-39-51-64-73-71-70-72

There was never any question that Holly Valance was an excellent pop star, but on her debut album, the music had (mostly) played second fiddle to her image and personality. State Of Mind wasn’t about to repeat that mistake though, and – quite unexpectedly – took her in an exhilarating new direction.

The reality is that the Footprints campaign had been almost exactly what people expected from Holly Valance: a few killer singles and some passable album tracks, padded out with a whole bunch of filler. And it was certainly no better or worse than it needed to be as a vehicle upon which to position and keep her in the public eye. Thus, there was no real expectation that State Of Mind would seek to do anything more adventurous, which made it all the more surprising that her comeback was both a dramatic departure in sound and a credible, forward-thinking electro-pop track. There is a sense that it was – at least in part – somewhat fortuitous. Whether Holly Valance enjoyed making music was debatable, but State Of Mind came at a time where she had the platform, resources and motivation to create a body of work that reflected what she was listening to.

And that’s really where State Of Mind excels. It feels dangerous and risky because that’s precisely what it was; the modest performance of Footprints meant that Holly Valance had very little to fall back on if this experiment went wrong, which makes it so darn thrilling. With no discernible mass-market for electro-pop in existence, this was an act literally living on the edge and doing things her own way. If she was on borrowed time and this was to be the end of the road (which it was) it ensured she would go out in a blaze of glory if nothing else.

The production on State Of Mind is phenomenal. This is next level, because it’s not just in the tricks that it pulls, like the way the blip-blip-blip intro bounces from ear to ear, or the electronic groans that punctuate the verses. There’s also something much more considered happening here; we were still a few years away from Britney SpearsBlackout at this point, but there are clear parallels to be drawn with State Of Mind – both single and album – in the way that they consciously sound rough around the edges and less than the sum of their parts. Here you have a high-profile pop act on a major label working with well-known producers, but the result is a track that sounds uncharacteristically raw.

The growling, static bassline thrashes around unpredictably against a thumping, fuzzy beat; in places, the sound becomes muffled and distorted as State Of Mind struggles against its own reckless abandon. It feels dirty and grubby, like it belongs in a sweaty, underground nightclub where the drinks are cheap, and the dancefloor is sticky. The track has both feet firmly in reality and presents an authentically adult version of that world.   

The other vital component is Holly Valance herself. By not being preoccupied with trying to show that she can sing, on State Of Mind she ironically winds up sounding like a much better singer. Technically? Maybe not. But in the way she interprets the song and gets right under its skin, this is easily her best performance by a country mile. The half sung-half spoken verses are dripping with attitude, while the pulsing chorus: “Too hot to touch, it’s getting too much, you know it’s just a state of mind; driving you wild, get caught up inside, you know it’s just a state of mind” is delivered with increasing volatility. Holly Valance gutturally shouts and screeches her way through the song, adding to that exhilarating sense that State Of Mind is rapidly spiralling out of control and behaving in a way that it shouldn’t.

Tying everything together is the music video, and if there was ever an example of a song that was perfectly matched with its visuals, then this is it. Everything that State Of Mind seeks to convey musically is brought to life on-screen. This is precisely the kind of song you’d listen to while driving around a city late at night before pulling into a club. We wouldn’t necessarily recommend crawling on the floor like Holly Valance, but it definitely gets the message across. This was the era of pop-punk, so gone are the slick dance routines of Kiss Kiss and Down Boy; in their place is something more spontaneous and improvised as she performs against a live band.

The styling is similarly edgy; the Ramones t-shirt and pleated skirt are on-point in terms of the way that pop music was starting to package itself to stay current. The video never loses sight of that vision; even when Holly Valance turns up at a mansion in the closing moments, it’s all a bit bleary-eyed and washed out with morning-after-the-night-before regret. If there’s a flaw to be found within State Of Mind, then it’s arguably too far ahead of the curve, having arrived at a destination that the rest of the industry wouldn’t reach for another few years. Fast-forward half a decade, though, and this could have been much, much bigger.

Thus, the commercial performance of State Of Mind is a difficult one to unpick. The track reached #8 in the UK, which – all things considered – seems about right for the time because its potential was only ever evident in hindsight. And it was certainly an improvement on the #16 peak of Naughty Girl, laying a foundation for the State Of Mind album campaign. Of course, it goes without saying that the album itself was an absolute gift and well ahead of its time. But there was no logical reason to release it after one single. With little momentum, the album tanked at #60 and promptly vanished, never to be seen again. Holly Valance’s new sound was always going to be a hard sell, so maybe this was as good as it was going to get. But releasing State Of Mind so quickly – and into the competitive Q4 market – it didn’t stand a chance. The follow-up single Desire was quietly removed from the schedules, and Holly Valance later parted ways with London Records.

It’s much easier to appreciate State Of Mind in the knowledge of what was to come during the rest of the decade. Holly Valance undoubtedly had her finger on the pulse, but the market just wasn’t there to spin this into a major success back in 2003. It flew under the radar and even the critics – who could’ve given the album a shot in the arm – didn’t pay much attention. In the years since, many people (or a very vocal minority, at least) have ruminated over its lack of recognition. On the other hand, Holly Valance has never seemed all that bothered. Her total disregard for the rules helped make State Of Mind what it is. But frustratingly it’s also what prematurely curtailed her pop career.

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Post Author: cantstopthepop