When 19-year-old Bic Runga released her first single Drive in 1996, New Zealand was introduced to a singular talent - a magnetic songwriter with an evocative, angelic voice that immediately seduced the nation's collective ears. It still stands as one of the most beautifully yearning pop ballads to come out of New Zealand. Sixteen years, four studio albums, two live albums, and one collection of rarities later, Runga is releasing her first Best Of.
The album opens with well-known early hits (Get Some Sleep, Sway, Good Morning Baby, and Listening for the Weather) and a couple of lesser known tracks from Drive. Two beautifully lush tracks from third album Birds stand out for their wonderful arrangements. Say After Me has always been a favourite, its heartbreak pop tinged with the sound of 1930s Paris, and Winning Arrow which rubbed a little alt-country through her classic sensibilities.
The contrast is bright as the album leaps into the effervescent Hello Hello from most recent album Belle. It's a musically eclectic album, but there's a strength, confidence, and sense of humour to it which resonates throughout - perhaps best demonstrated by brilliant, snappy 60s-ish Tiny Little Piece of My Heart. Runga manages to leap between fragile and strident in a chorus, and production from her partner - and ex-Mint Chick - Kody Nielson brings out the different colours in her delivery.
Of the three covers included on the album performed live with the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, Brel's Ne Me Quitte Pas is a triumphant standout - a goosebump-inducing rendition which stands tall against the many other well-loved versions, of the original. A cover of Dylan's One More Cup of Coffee is accomplished if not quite upping the game, as is a languorous country-tinged Something's Gotten Hold of My Heart. Placing studio track Everything is Beautiful and New (from Belle) in between the live tracks seems like an odd decision - it feels like an interruption, and a somewhat bizarre place for the Baroque-style lullaby.
The collection finishes up with a live version of Precious Things with Dave Dobbyn and Tim Finn (a great song that sounds better on the studio version), swaying, grooving If You Really Do from Belle, the potent sadness of Birds, and The Be All and End All.
It's a curious 22-track collection - the inclusion of very early songs remind that Runga was once a youthful, idealistic young girl with a guitar sitting in her bedroom, but they don't showcase the best of her talents. The fact that tracks from her first two albums take up more than half the album, while her strongest releases - Birds and Belle - only get seven tracks between them, heightens the sense that though it's certainly reflective of Runga's whole career, Anthology is not truly a "best of".
Verdict: Charts the development of a songstress, without really being a "best of".
Click here to buy Anthology by Bic Runga.