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After Strictly, Sophie's choice is inspired by Russian folklore

There is a certain delicious irony in the fact that, only a month after the public voted her into the final of Strictly Come Dancing, Sophie Ellis-Bextor is readying the release of an album that all but abandons any pretence of being dance floor-friendly.

RESTING TIME: But you can guarantee Sophie Ellis-Bextor won't be sitting still for long as she prepares for a 10-date UK tour.            Picture: Chris McAndrew
RESTING TIME: But you can guarantee Sophie Ellis-Bextor won't be sitting still for long as she prepares for a 10-date UK tour. Picture: Chris McAndrew

Those listening to Wanderlust will have precious little chance of engaging in floor slides, disco shimmies or exuberant salsas. "It's funny, isn't it?" says the singer with a laugh. "Though there are a couple of waltzes in there."

Ellis-Bextor's fifth album is a lush, dramatic affair, swept with melancholy strings, Eastern European flourishes, spare torch songs and lyrics inspired by Russian folklore. It is, she acknowledges, a radical departure from the crisp electronic dance music that has characterised her career to date, and one that speaks of an increasing willingness to take more chances in her life and music.

"I suppose if you were being really strategic, then making a big, shiny dance record would make a lot of sense after doing prime time television on a Saturday night," she says. "But I think the reason I ended up doing Strictly was the same reason I ended up making the album I did. I just wanted to do something a bit different.

"Ordinarily I would not have thought about doing a show like Strictly. I would have thought, 'Ooh no, that's not for me', but this time I thought, 'It looks like fun and it might be quite nice to take a risk'. It was the exact same logic I applied to making the album."

Ellis-Bextor has been a recognisable figure since the turn of the millennium, when her guest vocal appearance on Spiller's Grooverider (If This Ain't Love) kick-started a solo career that led to a series of hits such as Take Me Home, Murder On The Dancefloor and Catch You. However, it is fair to say her stint on Strictly has catapulted her to a new level of fame. Now she is recognised by "grannies and lots of small people". The response, thankfully, has been overwhelmingly positive.

"I underestimated how generous people would be," she says. "I think it is because there is a real innocence at the heart of the show, and there is something really pleasurable about watching people learning to do something. Dancing is a lovely thing, it is really special, and I had great fun. It was very genuine."

Now, though, she is dying to "get back to my day job. I loved dancing but towards the end I was really missing singing."

Wanderlust was already finished before she entered Strictly. She had written all the songs over the previous 18 months in collaboration with English singer-songwriter Ed Harcourt, a family friend. "I was over at his studio two or three days a week when we could fit it in," she says. "By the end we were quite dedicated, we were writing a song a week for the last six weeks."

It is easily the most impressive album of her career. Musically she was aiming for a bold, theatrical sound, while many of the lyrics were inspired by her recent tours in Russia, Ukraine and Poland.

"It's only a four-hour flight to Moscow but there is an undercurrent of all sorts of things going on there," she says. "It's such an extraordinary, rich atmosphere, and quite unusual. I got interested in Russian folklore, the fairytales and the culture, and it made me think a lot about the places where you are raised and the influence that has on you.

"I had visions in my head for most of the songs, the landscapes we were creating, who these people were and where they lived. There is a real Dr Zhivago thing going on in some of them, the sense of the Russian winter. It's quite Gothic."

She and her band recorded the results in a 10-day burst, playing live together in the room. It was another departure from her usual working methods. "It's healthy to do other stuff, and in other ways," she says. "I think of my records as stepping stones, you can't get to one without the other. My previous album, Make A Scene, was incredibly dancey and electronic, so this was probably a bit of reaction.

"I love dance music, I love pop, but this time I really wanted to do something that was different from all that. It was a refreshing way to work, good for me as a songwriter and good for me as a singer. It is definitely not the most commercial thing I have ever done in my life, but it was an album I really wanted to make."

At 34, Ellis-Bextor does not exactly exude rampant personal ambition. "In the most simple terms, you are always hoping the work you do will continue to enable you to work," is her low-key definition of success. She has been married to Richard Jones, bass player in The Feeling and the father of their three children, since 2005. They first met a decade ago when he was a member of her backing band, and quickly became an item. Having played on Wanderlust, for the first time since they became a couple Jones will be part of her band again this spring, playing bass on a 10-date tour that concludes in Glasgow.

All in all, she seems to have struck an excellent equilibrium between family, music and all the other activities that sometimes leave her "bobbing around like a pinball" from one place to the next.

"I think I have managed to have as good a balance as you can when you are a working parent," she says. "I have got a happy family, I love what I do, and my husband and I are fortunate enough to have jobs that are not proper jobs. I am a lucky girl, I reckon."

Wanderlust is out now. Sophie Ellis-Bextor plays Oran Mor, Glasgow, on April 19.

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