La Roux Vs Little Boots – First-Listen Face-Off!

Little Boots and La Roux have a lot in common. They’re both female electro-pop artists using pseudonyms beginning with L, both were touted as ones to watch at the start of the year and both now have debut albums coming out in June.

Little Boots

More tenuously, they also both have mildly embarrassing/gossip-worthy pasts (La Roux’s mum played Sergeant June Ackland in ‘The Bill’ (pictorial proof here), while Little Boots once auditioned for ‘The X Factor’).

Admittedly, the manner in which they channel ’80s synth-pop differs – LR is more of an Annie Lennox, impassive ice-maiden figure, while LB has more of an approachable, Blackpool lass-type charm. But I’m not going to let minor details like that get in the way of this afternoon’s exciting listening experiment, which is this: I’m going to pit the albums against each other in the most scientific way possible: one track from each, switching one between the other, sharing my reaction in real time.

Why? Not sure. But McLusky are on the stereo and they’re doing my head in. So… headphones on. Let’s do this.

La Roux

Track 1
LB: ‘New In Town’. Nice juddery synth intro, of a kind every music journalist will insist on calling ‘Giorgio Moroder-esque’. The rest is a bit airy and bland, like an electro Natalie Imbruglia. Makes me think the edginess of ‘Stuck On Repeat’ was a feint – this really is pop, it’s meant for daytime Radio 1, not the Dublin Castle. Lovely spoken-word middle-eight, though.
LR: ‘In For The Kill’. A wise move kicking off with a song that’s already been a hit. Very brittle-sounding next to Little Boots though. Production is not as lush.
Verdict: ‘In For The Kill’ is clearly the better song, but on a gut, physical level my ears enjoyed LB more.
Winner: Little Boots!

Track 2
LB: ‘Earthquake’. Bit more upbeat, nice bit of fuzzed-up bass, although beneath the jauntiness it’s clearly about a relationship fizzling out. “I can’t stand it when you come home and we fight for hours”. That, and the layering of the vocals, makes it very Lily Allen. Sounds like a hit.
LR: ‘Tigerlily’. Underpinned by a weird, stuttering beat, vaguely reminiscent of ‘When Doves Cry’. Middle-eight is truly bizarre, a throaty, Vincent Price-style spoken-word skit that recalls the start of Michael Jackson’s ‘Thriller’.
Verdict: LR’s lyrics are far more evocative and subtle than LB’s: “I’ll be your light in the mist… burning with desire for a kiss”.
Winner: La Roux!

Track 3
LB: ‘Stuck On Repeat’. We already know this is staggeringly brilliant. Next!
LR: ‘Quicksand’. The ‘When Doves Cry’ beat again. Incredible song, all sharp lyrical edges and chunky, stabbing synth riffs.
Verdict: Impossible to choose between these two. Unfair, too: they’re both as close to perfect as it’s possible for a pop song to get. Erm, let’s say music is the winner.

Track 4
LB: ‘Click’. Ravey intro. Strategy of this album seems to be: take the authentic sonics of ‘proper’ electro and overlay it with inoffensive ladypop lyrics. The build-up to the chorus is quite Pet Shop Boys circa ‘Actually’. Impressively so.
LR: ‘Bulletproof’. Her catchiest song, sleek and immediate, bursting with hooks.
Verdict: It’s hard to compete with a song as straightforwardly ace as ‘Bulletproof’.
Winner: La Roux!

Track 5
LB: ‘Remedy’. “I can hear you stalking like a predator”. A bit more gutsy, this one. Chorus is vast, the biggest so far. Wouldn’t sound out of place on a Girls Aloud album. You sound like a total dick saying things like “Radio 1 will go nuts for this”. But it’s true. They will.
LR: ‘Colourless Colour’. Relatively downbeat, in a minor-key – marks quite a mood-shift after the spring-loaded ebullience of ‘Bulletproof’.
Verdict: Your attitude to LB’s track will depend on your tolerance for girl-band cheese – but setting aside indie snobbery it’s undeniably the more enjoyable song.
Winner: Little Boots!

Track 6
LB: ‘Meddle’. It’s been retooled and polished a bit, but this is essentially the same as the seven-inch version. Choral interlude at 2.05 is still genius.
LR: ‘I’m Not Your Toy’. “You don’t love me, you just want the attention”. Hard to shake the conviction that there’s a bit more depth and nuance to Elly Jackson’s lyrics.
Verdict: Another hard decision, but the power of ‘Meddle”s chorus ultimately bulldozes all criticism out of its path.
Winner: Little Boots!

Track 7
LB: ‘Ghosts’. Bit of a gearshift, this one’s kinda vaudeville and… high-kicking. Hmm. Bit Liza Minelli for my tastes. Still, it’s taken until track 7 to reach the filler stage, and you can’t say that about many pop albums.
LR: ‘Cover My Eyes’. The first proper slowie. Not sure LR’s voice is strong enough to handle a ballad. Just sounds listless. Bored, even.
Verdict: They’re both pretty shonky, to be honest.
Winner: Tie!

Track 8
LB: ‘Mathematics’. Verse is kinda meh… but wait! Chorus rules. Mid-album lull seems to be over. Mathematical lyrics seem a bit laboured though (“Your x is equal to my heart” etc).
LR: ‘As If By Magic’. Another downbeat track but the lyrics are intriguing: “I’m living in a box, and I won’t come out until I’ve broken all the locks.”
Verdict: You get the feeling Elly Jackson has been through the emotional wringer more than Victoria Hesketh. Kinda like the difference between Adele and Duffy: you believe one of them more.
Winner: La Roux!

Track 9
LB: ‘Symmetry’. Oh, it’s a duet with Phil Oakey. He even does a spoken-word middle-eight. Could this BE any more ’80s? No, it couldn’t.
LR: ‘Fascination’. Another inarguable pop depth-charge, although her voice is sounding more shrieky with each passing track.
Verdict: You can see why ‘In For The Kill’ was initially rejected by Radio 1 for sounding “too tinny”. There is something lightweight about LR’s production. Even so, her song is the stronger of the two, 80s cameo or no.
Winner: La Roux!

Track 10
LB: ‘Tune Into My Heart’. And we’re back in Natalie Imbruglia territory – or is it Holly Valance I’m thinking of? One for the ladies, perhaps.
LR: ‘Reflections Are Protections’. More pressingly, it’s 6.20pm on a Friday and everyone else is in the pub. Sort of wish I hadn’t started this now.
Verdict: These are both tracks that you’ll skip on your iPod, so it’s hard to summon for the enthusiasm for a verdict either way, but let’s say…
Winner: La Roux!

Track 11
LB: ‘Hearts Collide’. This is just a straight Kylie rip-off. Tell the truth, I’m a bit synth-popped out at this point. Not even sure what I think anymore. Suddenly feel the need to listen to Slayer or something.
LR: ‘Armour Love’. Another slightly dreary ballad.
Verdict: Both artists are at their best when they go for the disco jugular. When they slow it down, they lose their appeal.
Winner: Tie!

Track 12
LB: ‘No Brakes’. Back to the ‘I Feel Love’ synths that kicked things off. I’m sure I’ve heard the line “You crashed right into my life” before, many times. Bored now. Oh – but there’s a bonus track. A baffling skronk-metal wigout, perhaps? No, it’s a piano ballad. Perfectly pleasant, but it’s making me think ‘Fame Academy’.
LR: ‘Growing Pains’. It’s LR’s turn to sound like Lily Allen. Sonically it’s even more minimalist than what has gone before, sparse and flinty. Not overly melodic.
Verdict: LR’s track isn’t great, but at least it’s not a piano ballad. Which means…
Winner: La Roux!

Overall Verdict
On first listen it’s obvious that Little Boots’ album will be more successful commercially: it sounds bigger and more confident, aided by a gleaming, precision-tooled production job. But maybe that slickness is also its chief flaw.

By comparison, La Roux’s album sounds tentative, even fearful at times. Elly Jackson’s outwardly tough, ice-maiden persona conceals a sensitive soul, and a sharp-eyed lyricist. There’s a little-girl-lost quality to her that’s really endearing and will, ultimately, will make her the more interesting pop star, I think. So…

Overall Winner: La Roux!