wears the trousers magazine


la roux: la roux (2009)
June 29, 2009, 10:17 am
Filed under: album, review | Tags: , , , ,

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La Roux
La Roux ••••½
Polydor

Hello again, 1982. Listening to La Roux’s debut album, it’s as though vocalist Elly Jackson and producer Ben Langmaid have been living in a cultural vacuum for the last 25 years or so. A glossy, almost sonically frigid collection of completely electronic music, it seemingly negates every musical trend than has come between then and now in favour of a sound from an era that grows more remote sounding by the day, encompassing such sonic bedfellows as Japan, Blancmange, Yazoo, Eurythmics, Depeche Mode and David Bowie. But to describe La Roux as ’80s pop pretenders would be reductive, because behind the shimmering beats and synthetic wall of sound are expertly crafted pop songs that marry well-written melodies and immediate chorus hooks with keenly observed, angsty lyrics. They are not simply the sum of their production values – they are excellent songwriters too.

The album opens with their biggest hit to date, ‘In For The Kill’, a song about putting one’s heart on the line in order for it to be vanquished or loved back, and quickly defines the sound adopted for most of the album – clipped, stuttering beats, whirls of synths, echoing bleeps, and Jackson’s soaring falsetto. The brilliant use of “oooh-ooh”s that mark the end of each line of the verse make it instantly recognisable, and the pattern of minor chords in the verse and major chords in the chorus set a template for the majority of the other tracks. ‘Tigerlily’ highlights the fact that Jackson’s voice is not all shrill falsetto, sounding defiant as she berates the eponymous character against a clash of drum machines. A clear album standout, the chorus suddenly shifts into a different gear with a ska-dub beat, before the middle-eight drafts in a Vincent Price ‘Thriller’-esque monologue about paranoia. Genius.

‘Quicksand’ ostensibly takes Prince’s ‘When Doves Cry’, cranks it up a notch, and soups up the synth and bass. Rather than being a pastiche it reinvents the sound as Jackson ruminates on the dangers of unrequited love. ‘Bulletproof’ continues the streak of radio-friendly pop, proving that Jackson is no one trick pony as beats and bleeps jump all around her voice. The vocoder breakdown is also likely to give you goosebumps. ‘Colourless Colour’ gives the listener a chance to breathe after the bombardment of hook-heavy hits with a more mid-tempo number that tries less hard to please, but nonetheless has a chorus that slowly works its way into your head over a more early ’90s-sounding house beat. Next single ‘I’m Not Your Toy’ should ensure another huge hit for La Roux, again capitalising on their innate ability to deliver a chorus hook that sticks like flypaper. Sounding as though it was composed using an old Atari, it celebrates its ’80s sonic palette with unconscious abandon. Although the song uses percussive stutters similar to Little Boot’s ‘New In Town’, La Roux utilise it to much better effect.

The second half of the album can’t quite live up to the breathtaking start, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t great moments. The gorgeous ‘Cover My Eyes’ is the album’s only real ballad, pitching La Roux’s heartfelt and vulnerable vocals against a full choir, over a backdrop that calls to mind Bowie’s ‘China Girl’ and Japan’s ‘Vision Of China’. ‘Fascination’ drops a heavier club beat, which breaks down into a bridge that is simply stunning, before hammering you over the head with the brilliant chorus. ‘Reflections Are Protections’ again offers a slightly more dubstep style that starts and stops under La Roux’s snarling vocals, before ‘Armour Love’ slows the album back down, ending on a sombre but pretty note, as La Roux castigates an ex-lover “You seem to believe you belong to somebody else”. Bonus track ‘Growing Pains’ sounds disconcertingly like something Lily Allen might come up with, rehashing the beat for ‘In For The Kill’, and may have been better left off.

Elly Jackson is probably the edgiest of her immediate contemporaries, the slightly saccharine Little Boots and over-sexed Lady GaGa, dissecting as she does the burnt detritus of failed relationships with cold, synthetic sounds. Crafting an album that delivers commercial hits and revels in a somewhat sleazy club sound is no mean feat, and allows the album to have the radio time it deserves while keeping the cooler club kids happy. With Langmaid as her silent partner in crime, Jackson has crafted one of the best pop albums of the decade – the only question is, which decade?

P. Viktor
UK release date: 29/06/09; www.myspace.com/larouxuk


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[…] Lunatic Asylum 6/1 Bat For Lashes, Two Suns [review] 6/1 Glasvegas, Glasvegas 6/1 La Roux, La Roux [review] 8/1 Speech Debelle, Speech Therapy [review] 8/1 The Horrors, Primary Colours 8/1 Lisa Hannigan, […]

Pingback by lisa hannigan nominated for mercury music prize « wears the trousers magazine

[…] What we said then: “Hello again, 1982. Listening to La Roux’s debut album, it’s as though vocalist Elly Jackson and producer Ben Langmaid have been living in a cultural vacuum for the last 25 years or so. A glossy, almost sonically frigid collection of completely electronic music, it seemingly negates every musical trend than has come between then and now in favour of a sound from an era that grows more remote sounding by the day, encompassing such sonic bedfellows as Japan, Blancmange, Yazoo, Eurythmics, Depeche Mode and David Bowie.” ••••½ P Viktor […]

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