The best U2 album U2 never made is also one of Sarah Brightman’s best. Fly represents a big and bold step in the right direction for the soprano, melting her crystalline vocal talents with a rock-oriented vibe and some stellar guest stars.
The 1995 release is Brightman’s second release with Frank Peterson as producer. Whereas Dive seemed to rehash Peterson’s territory, Fly seems more a statement from Brightman herself. She is out of the shadow of Andrew Lloyd Webber, for the moment at least, and seems to celebrate the stimulating rock and pop arrangements found on the record.
While Dive found influences in the ambient world, Fly spreads its wings into broader territory. It features many U2-esque bits, like the title track and the guitar-driven “Why,” and even fiddles with rock opera (“A Question of Honour”) and Swedish alt-rock (“Murder in Mairyland Park”). And, as though that wasn’t enough, Brightman raps (“I Loved You”) and collaborates with Tom Jones (“Something in the Air”).
The decision to move away from the Broadway and classical realm is fleeting, but Fly’s welcome change from the everyday makes it one of Brightman’s most diverse and extraordinary recordings. There are notes of the Lloyd Webber dominion and bits and pieces of classical music plaited into the cloth of the disc, but the rock edges and electronic music workings produce something exceptional.
“A Question of Honour” is still one of Brightman’s most popular songs. Written by Peterson, the tune has notes of rock opera and German pop. It was the official theme for a boxing match in Germany and is now the theme in Japan for the FIFA World Cup, but its appearance on Fly fits right with the program. Whether it’s the devilish “two men collide” lyrics or the throbbing German dance beat or the operatic vocals or the thunderclap, this song is replete with awesomeness.
Brightman’s participation spreads into the writing arena and her input is strong. She penned “Why” and the airy “You Take My Breath Away” with Peterson and was in on “Heaven is Here.”
Fly is perhaps most interesting because of the foundations it lays for upcoming records. Those who know Brightman’s career will recognize these components, from the use of Middle Eastern mechanisms and Hindi chants to a sample of the moon landing that fits into the album’s concluding track.
From the Peter Weihe guitars that would become part of Brightman’s sound from here until present day to the appearance of Chris Thompson of Manfred Mann’s Earth Band, Fly really does have something for everyone. It is one of Brightman’s best albums, signifying a step away from musical theatre and classical music and laying the foundation for many things to come.