To the Stars: Sarah Brightman – Dive

For Sarah Brightman, Dive really is the ultimate transition record. Out of the Andrew Lloyd Webber pond for now, this 1993 release is a concept album and one of the first bold artistic statements for the soprano.

It’s also Brightman’s first record with Frank Peterson, a German producer who would form the guiding light for her career for several albums to come. He’d worked extensively with Enigma and is one of the founding members of the group, so it stands to reason that Dive sounds an awful lot like the work of the electronic music project.

The album carries an ocean theme, represented through a number of sea-based songs and a generally water-logged feel. This is exacted through Peterson’s ambient, soft pop approach and Brightman’s tender tones.

Dive is far from the theatrical worlds that previously dominated her musical output, with little regard given to immense soprano notes and vocal acrobatics. The record shows off the finer, more nuanced facets to her range and she fits the scenario like a glove, never overdoing it. It could be conversely argued that, for all the musicality and melody in her voice, Brightman doesn’t get attention unless she commands it.

Dive is a good album and a smart step forward for Brightman, however. Her previous efforts featured limp collections of Lloyd Webber tunes and assortments of impossibly archaic folk songs. She also rarely rose above the material, but who could blame her?

After a brief introduction sets the saturated tone, the album launches with “Captain Nemo.” This was a hit for Swedish band Dive (coincidence?) and forms the first single. It’s a pretty good tune and has a strong and pleasant core.

“The Second Element” once again carries a strong melodic core, as does the too-brief “Ship of Fools.”

Dive hits its stride with “Once in a Lifetime,” a song with Brightman’s lyrical input and sinuous, deep-sea feel. The piece originally came from Peterson’s Gregorian, a chant-inspired band that features Brightman’s participation at times (as well as her sister’s). “Once in a Lifetime” features a sustaining musical blend, with lots of good work with respect to choral layering and harmonizing.

Tracks like “Johnny Wanna Live” and “By Now” further typify the Peterson link, insisting that this version of Sarah Brightman is (sort of) her own artist. It’s hard to shake the Enigma comparisons and it’s harder to argue that this record is stylistically exceptional, but it does deliver an avenue that feels more like her personal space.

Dive is an album of evolution and profound personal growth for Sarah Brightman. As her career ventures from the sea to outer space, it pays to remember that her sensible decision to scale it back started here.

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