As a passionate fan of Imogen Heap’s music, her debut album, I Megaphone, has always been very compelling to me. Known primarily for music that’s elegant and atmospheric, overflowing with screaming emotion but presented through gentle, breathy vocals, her raw and unfiltered beginnings as a 20-year-old artist with a slight Alanis Morissettte vibe come as a stark contrast. Within it are hints of the artist as she’s come to be in the two decades since its release, but it’s intriguing to see a very different side of her.
One of its most interesting offerings is “Useless,” which shows the beginnings of the British singer-songwriter’s creativity while still dwelling within I Megaphone’s world of alternative rock. Backed by samplings from “Liquid Days” by Philip Glass, it starts with eerie, overlapping whispers of “useless.” In its verses, with its calming piano, it could almost be an acoustic rendition of a modern song with slightly deeper vocals, but building drums lead into a booming, guitar-filled chorus filled with an aggressive energy.
As a whole, the song is a far cry from her later work, both atmospherically and thematically. Rather than feel dreamlike, introspective, and poetic, “Useless” is as blunt as its title; it makes no attempt to hide behind clever words as it proclaims, “I feel so useless.” The raw emotion comes out even stronger in its bridge, which slows to a melodic halt and seeks solace and hope over harsh screams of “anger,” “hatred,” and similar words of frustration.
The composition displays a degree of—for lack of a better word—angst that is simply not present or even hinted at within Heap’s career henceforth. And that’s neither a bad thing for “Useless” nor for her later work, but simply a natural display of progression and maturity. Still, given her immense talent and the high heights to which she’s risen, it’s incredibly fun to revisit where she started and hear the roots of her creativity, and that makes “Useless”—and the whole of I Megaphone—worth your listen, if you’ve not been fortunate enough to experience its unique world yet.