It’s been five long years since La Roux released their eponymous debut album, leading the charge of the late 2000s synth-pop brigade with the kind of effervescent, 80s-indebted melodies that wormed their way into a No. 2 spot and a Mercury Prize nomination. In that time a lot has changed: the majority of the band’s contemporaries (Little Boots, Ladyhawke et al) have all but disappeared and even one half of the band – producer/composer Ben Langmaid – upped and left.
Now Elly Jackson is back, helming the La Roux ship on her own and with a new album – aptly named ‘Trouble In Paradise’ – in tow. Half a decade on from the debut that brought her to fame, can Jackson pick up where she left off or is the record’s title merely a slightly-too-apt premonition?
Here’s our first listen guide to La Roux, round two…
The first proper single to emerge from ‘Trouble In Paradise’, you’ll have already heard this one – and if you’ve heard it once, then chances are it’ll be wedged firmly in your brain space for a long time to come. Possible even trumping old earworm ‘In For The Kill’ for La Roux’s catchiest track to date, it’s like Club Tropicana gone electro as Jackson’s falsetto coos about the “temperature rising” around melodies born to make you shimmy. As strong an opening as they come.
’Kiss and Not Tell’
Dials are still set firmly to ‘hook-laden’, but here Jackson strips things back to bleepy minimalism. Full of video game-style blips and chirpy, Casio plonks, it’s – you imagine – what Lily Allen was gunning for on the lighter end of current album ‘Sheezus’. Sure, it’s got as much hidden depth as a paddling pool, but its twinkling irreverence is kind of the point.
“It’s a dangerous thing/ When passion turns into greed/ Cruel sexuality/ Am I a fool to let you trouble me?” croons Jackson with the kind of sprightly falsetto that would lend itself more fittingly to musings about the innate difficulty in choosing between a margarita and a martini. Musically, however, ‘Cruel Sexuality’ is still full of tropical beats and shimmering synths; ‘Trouble in Paradise’ so far seems to have picked up where the debut left off and transported it to a Caribbean beach.
’Paradise Is You’
“The palm trees make it feel like a paradise/ But without you here there’s nothing nice,” begins ‘Paradise Is You’; we’re still on La Roux’s newly found tropical island, but things are clearly starting to take a turn for the stormy. The first drop in pace, this marks one of the most straight-forward numbers of La Roux’s career to date. Plaintive keyboards abound, while Jackson’s yearning vocal takes centre stage. OK, so her sentiments aren’t exactly Shakespearian, but you know you’ll be listening to this, weeping at 3am after one too many gins at some point soon.
Rather than the loose-moralled eyebrow-raiser that the dirty disco of its title suggests, ‘Sexoteque’ is actually a relatively peppy admonishment of a man who, shamefully, spends all his time at the ‘sexoteque’. Despite Jackson’s annoyance that he’s “never at home” and “never answers the phone”, you can’t help but think that maybe the devious love rat in question is just trying to get a break from the incessantly peppy soundtrack on offer there. Not the album’s finest hour. Also, is that a pan pipe?!
This is better. Despite cod-reggae literally being the worst genre ever committed to tape, the subtlety of ‘Tropical Chancer’s grooves allows it to pass the test. “'Tropical Chancer' bounces along with a beach bar-ready reggae motif and a backside-wobbling low end,” wrote NME’s Ben Homewood on this track’s initial debut. An impressively adept change in direction.
After the departure of co-founder Ben Langmaid – who wrote and produced alongside Jackson, but never performed live with La Roux – it’s not too much of an imagination stretch to see what this track could be about. “You’re not my partner, no you’re not a part of me/ All I need is silence,” she sings over bubbling, 80s synths and one of the most defiant melodies of the album. Undulating across seven-minutes, it’s like an updated ‘I Feel Love’, but with distinctly less doe-eyed sentiments. An easy highlight, it’s pretty clear who’s winning here.
’Let Me Down Gently’
The first track to emerge online, ‘Let Me Down Gently’ seemed to signal a new introverted and self-critical path from the formerly bulletproof star. “A breathy exorcism of moody melodies and broken-hearted soul-purging, 'Let Me Down Gently' does everything a breakup anthem should, tapping into the frayed clusterfuck of anger, upset and desperate bargaining that comes with the end of a relationship,” wrote NME.com’s Assistant Editor, Al Horner. More than a month down the line and Jackson’s most soul-baring moment still packs an affecting punch.
Thankfully of no relation to the wet-behind-the-ears pop combo of the same name, ‘The Feeling’ instead takes Enya-esque ambient synth purrs and backs them against the kind of gentle melodic sweeps that are born for soundtracking the end of the night when dawn is breaking and everything is bathed is a particularly content kind of calm. A satisfying wind-down to an album that tries to hide its emotions on the dancefloor, but still flickers with a newfound sense of heart.