The word “comeback” is overused, but in Laura Mvula‘s case, it really does hold true. Though her impressive second album, 2016’s ‘The Dreaming Room’, earned her MOBO and Mercury Prize nominations plus an Ivor Novello award, she was unceremoniously dropped by RCA Records six months after it came out. The supremely talented Birmingham-born musician later revealed that she received the bad news in a forwarded seven-line email.
Having dusted herself off – writing the music for the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2017 production of Antony & Cleopatra must have helped – Mvula is back on a new label, Atlantic, with an overhauled sound. Where her 2013 debut ‘Sing to the Moon’ largely blended soul with orchestral pop and ‘The Dreaming Room’ introduced a touch of funk and disco to the mix, Mvula has called ‘Pink Noise’ an album “made with warm sunset tones of the ’80s”. She isn’t overselling it.
‘What Matters’, a dewy duet with Biffy Clyro‘s Simon Neil, so evokes a prom scene in a John Hughes movie that you can practically taste the dry ice. ‘Magical’ is a show-stopping pop-soul ballad in the vein of English singer-songwriter Sam Brown’s 1988 hit ‘Stop’, while ‘Conditional’ boasts strutting verses on which Mvula channels Grace Jones. ‘Church Girl’, a cathartic bop that sees Mvula sing, “How can you dance with the Devil on your back?”, contains twinkly echoes of mid-’80s Whitney Houston.
It all reaches a delirious peak on ‘Got Me’, a brilliant Michael Jackson-style banger that feels like one of the songs of the summer. ‘Overcome’, the Nile Rodgers collaboration that appeared on ‘The Dreaming Room’, proved Mvula could shine on the dance floor, but she’s never sounded so loose or joyous. In a way, it’s a shame nothing else here sounds so giddy, but what makes ‘Pink Noise’ feel authentic is the fact it’s more than just ’80s homage. Throughout, Mvula and co-producer Dann Hume blend their sonic palette – shimmering synths, Prince-ly guitar riffs, booming Phil Collins-style drums – with lush, lustrous vocal arrangements that recall Mvula’s previous work. When they also throw in a soaring chorus, as on the stunning album closer ‘Before the Dawn’, the effect is pure ear candy.
If you’re looking for lyrics inspired by record label disrespect, you’ll probably find them. “Another blow to the ego / A victim of conditional love,” Mvula sings at the start of ‘Conditional’. But ‘Pink Noise’ is steeped in liberation, not bitterness – it isn’t just a heartening comeback, but an absolutely sparkling pop album.
Release date: July 2
Release label: Atlantic