After three years of creative battles and fan support, Sony Music finally released Sophie B. Hawkins’s third album, Timbre, in the summer of 1999. Having worked with producers like Rick Chertoff (best known for his work with Cyndi Lauper and Joan Osborne) and Stephen Lipson (Annie Lennox), Hawkins decided to take complete control of her third effort. The result is a strange palette: both dark and colorful, haunting and uplifting, Timbre is a middleground between the brilliant complexities and rawness of her debut, Tongues & Tails and the radio-friendly pop of Whaler. Like her previous work, it is an interesting mix of sex and death.
The album begins with the pure “Walking in My Blue Jeans,” its marimbas effectively transporting you far from the potential hit single that it is. “32 Lines,” like Tongues & Tails before it, explores Hawkins’s candid sexuality: “I want your hand across my belly/I want your breasts upon my back/I want your pain to rip right through me.” As layers of instrumentation and backing vocals grow thicker, so do her words: “Open my heart/I’ll tell you stories/Open my legs/I’ll read your mind.” And as it swells to its finale of guitar and strings: “You’re my power/I’m your disgrace.”
“Help Me Breathe” delves into the psyche of a woman who longs for a lost love. Hawkins has become a unique storyteller, using emotion and sensibility in place of setting (“They have found inside each other/What they had lost within themselves/Now they are bonded to forever/In their search for something else”). Like much of the album, “Help Me Breathe” touches on death with a peculiar fondness (“And light shall lift them/Higher and higher/And dreams shall carry them on/And loss shall lead them/To life’s final hour/Where death shall overcome”). The final track, “The One You Have Not Seen,” features a raspy vocal reminiscent of Stevie Nicks, and closes with a crescendo of instrumentation played solely by the multi-talented Hawkins. Timbre was truly her emancipation in many ways. Hawkins parted with Sony in 2000, and the album has been re-released on her own Trumpet Swan Records in hopes of giving it a new and much deserved life.