A year after its initial release, Olive's debut album, Extra Virgin, finally produced a number one British hit with "You're Not Alone," a low-key lite trip-hop number with a graceful melody. It's a strong single, and there are similarly strong moments on Extra Virgin, yet Olive don't stand out from the post-Portishead pack. Like Everything but the Girl, they are essentially a folky, pop-oriented group that uses the stoned rhythms of trip-hop as hip window-dressing. Since that rhythm is appealing on its own terms, it doesn't matter that Olive use it as ornamentation, especially since they use it well. What is a problem is their lack of consistent songwriting. Only a few songs match the singles "You're Not Alone" and "Miracle" in terms of memorable, melodic construction, and the weaker tracks tend to float by on their admittedly entrancing production. And that leaves Extra Virgin an intriguing debut, but not necessarily one that promises great things from Olive.
Where most trip-hop artists downplay melody as a matter of principle, Olive (keyboardist / trumpeter / producer Tim Kellett and vocalist Ruth-Ann) embraces it almost defiantly, maintaining the rhythmic interest of electronica and the generally dark undercurrents of trip-hop while simultaneously delivering tunes that are swooningly lovely without ever sounding quite commercial. The lead track on the band's Maverick debut is perhaps its best: "Love Affair" glides on an updraft of sampled strings and a subtly jungle-flavored breakbeat, while the sung melody (especially in the chorus, where the chord progression takes an unusual and delightful turn) climbs from peak to emotional peak. The rest of the program is almost as good, from the slow and funky "Trickle" and a tweaked and bleepy version of the 10cc classic "I'm Not in Love" to a slightly Latin-tinged kiss-off song titled "Creature of Comfort." (Several minutes after the end of the album's last track is a hidden song called "Take My Hand").