In the lightspeed world of modern pop, the phrase “absence makes the heart grow fonder” hardly ever applies – instead memories fade, fashions buckle and one-time chart-toppers are easily forgotten. Thanks to the workhorse likes of Rihanna and One Direction, who both typically release an album a year, spending more than 18 months out of the limelight in pop terms is like being cast away on a desert island for 30 years to the rest of us: a long fucking time, basically.
You won’t need to tell this to Elly Jackson. You can bet it’s been on on her mind for each of the five years since her last album as the face of La Roux. Their 2009 eponymous debut was a breezy throwback to a golden age for androgynous, razor sharp British pop: Eurythmics, Pet Shop Boys, Soft Cell, Erasure and so on. Two blockbuster singles (‘In For The Kill’ and ‘Bulletproof’) later, the Brixton-born singer was mixing in some pretty important circles: by the business end of 2010, she’d collaborated with Kanye West, Rihanna and Kid Cudi on the former’s ‘All Of The Lights’ and provided the monolithic hook that drove Watch The Throne’s ‘That’s My Bitch’.
Then… silence. La Roux decamped to a cottage in the Welsh countryside in 2011 to record their second album. A 2012 release was touted then failed to materialise. Same again in 2013. Some feared they were never coming back as rumours of failed collaborations with White Lies and in-band fighting swirled around the music industry. “I’m not going to stop writing until we’ve got songs that can compete on the same level as ‘In For The Kill’ and ‘Bulletproof’,” Jackson promised NME at the beginning of the writing process. Five years later, in new single ‘Let Me Down Gently’ at least, it appears she’s finally found them.
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. “You’re not my life but I want you in it,” Jackson bellows over a pulsating 80s keyboard line and thundering electro drums. Then there’s the matter of a sax solo that grabs even the stoniest of hearts by the scruff of the neck, shaking you to the brink of hysterics. It’s lean, muscular and no-nonsense in a way she could have only achieved alone; La Roux is now essentially a solo project, with Jackson having parted ways with main collaborator Ben Langmaid in the making of the new record.
Will the rest of new album ‘Trouble In Paradise’ pack the same punch? We’ll have to wait till July 7 – or thereabouts, if it streams online early – to find out. But compared to the marathon wait we’ve already endured for this record, that’s a drop in the ocean, right? Welcome back La Roux – your return hasn’t let us down at all.