GENRES: Pop, Adult Contemporary, Soul
YEARS ACTIVE: 1992–PRESENT
“ReStylin’ Up 20 Years” by Christine Anu has a rare transportative quality. It’s an album that takes the listener right back. As far back as two decades. Incredibly, the great Australian singer’s debut longplayer this year celebrates 20 years since it was released and accepted into the nation’s heart. So to mark the special occasion, Christine has taken herself back to where it all began.
The Cairns-born artist has revisited her breakthrough album and reworked its historic songs and its singles’ b-sides for a 20th anniversary edition of “Stylin’ Up,” which is due for release on 19th June through Social Family Records. The songs of “ReStylin’ Up 20 Years” will be familiar to many. “Island Home” is rightly recognized as one of Australia’s most important songs, an ode to a nation that will forever be linked with Christine Anu. The singles “Party” and “Come On” helped launch the artist into the public consciousness and establish her as one of her country’s new finest talents, with a knack for pure pop and R&B.
A new angle on the arrangements breathes new life into these classic songs. To see through the project, Christine gathered a team of first-rate musicians to rehearse and lay down the tracks, many of whom she’d never worked with before. Christine and Co. avoided the trappings of musical over-indulgence and over-production. In a rare accomplishment, the album was completed in a single day, from single takes.
“Recording an album is typically drawn out over a long period of time,” Christine says. “It just seems to be a never ending process. This was totally different. To have gone in at 10am and come out at 12.30 at night and know that the next day we’re delivering a full album mastered was pretty awesome. I’ve never had that feeling before. It’s like when athletes perform for four years to get to the Olympics. And everything you put into your race is the best you’ve got. You’ve trained very hard, and that’s what it felt like for me. It was like I’d run an amazing race and everything I needed to do, to win that race, was in there.” The original “Stylin’ Up” has run its own marathon. Its updated companion was completed in a sprint.
The 2015 edition of “Stylin Up” is an evolutionary leap from its predecessor. Although Christine and her bandmates tasked themselves with reinventing a classic, the warmth and joy of the original remains infused in its musical fabric. The end result is a tender, timeless recording that is a testament to talent, drive and enduring songwriting. “It was a kind of diplomacy where we all had to be happy with the result,” she explains. “Everyone brought everything they had into the studio, all our creative juices were squeezed out and it could only happen in that moment.”
Christine Anu has always thrived on pressure-cooker situations. She craves tough assignments, projects such as the reworked “ReStylin’ Up 20 Years.” “I need the challenge to grow as a person. I need those circumstances to grow from. Every little thing that happened on the way has helped me become the professional I am. I’ve never taken anything for granted. You work like you’ve never worked before under those stresses and pressures. I’ve never had the same feeling on past albums, the satisfaction of accomplishment, the sense you can move onto the next phase.”
The workload of the recording sessions unleashed something special from Christine. “If a musician had left for the evening, I went from the top of the album to the bottom and redid a whole other vocal take because by then my voice had warmed up. And the things I was pulling out was a whole other level of singing!”
Christine Anu reunited with producer Steve Balbi (Noiseworks, Electric Hippies) on “ReStylin’ Up 20 Years,” which was cut at the famed 301 Studios in Alexandria, Sydney. Balbi worked on Christine’s 2014 festive album release, “Island Christmas.” “He’s somebody with a head for live producing, for live recording,” she explains. And his talents have made for an album that “sounds contemporary and fresh. The right process was applied to the situation.”
It’s hard to overstate the impact of “Stylin’ Up.” The awards and the memories tell only part of the story. “We were taking ideas and concepts and trying to make them come alive,” recalls Christine. “For a woman who was about to become the first Indigenous Australian woman making a pop album, all of these ideas were just fresh. We were trying things out. What was happening in the music environment in 1994 or 1995 is so different to what’s happening now. There was no R&B market back then. Look left and right, everyone is now putting out music with an R&B base.”
Christine Anu has enjoyed a career full of highlights, and they can all be traced in some way to her stellar first album. She once performed for Princess Diana, for the late South African leader Nelson Mandela and launched National Indigenous Television. Christine has won an ARIA Award for Best Female Recording Artist and, of course, she delivered a stirring rendition of “My Island Home” at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games ceremonies. Christine Anu has also earned a long list of acting credits across film and TV. Many Australians regard her as a role model for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.
“I’ve had the opportunity to do a lot of wonderful things. I always looked at a situation as though everything would be taken from me in the next minute, that it would be my last. I always made the most of every opportunity and I’m grateful for it.”
Christine Anu carries only fond memories for the album which launched her career. Retracing those steps was invigorating, and the resulting new version of “ReStylin’ Up 20 Years” will have a life all of its own. “There’s something to be said about the origins of our lives. It’s your roots, where you come from. To revisit these songs, it’s about acknowledging those things, my past and where I’m from. The past is absolutely responsible for shaping who I’ve become now. And it’s a huge honor to look back and respect what that did.”