Katy B - 'Little Red'
The dubstep superstar takes a sobering trip into London nightlife on her accomplished second album
Picture daybreak in London. Buses charge through puddles, commuters groan, a regurgitated kebab lines the pavement… Katy B doesn’t do the hungover slump of dawn. Katy B does flirtatious, nocturnal adventure. Her 2011 debut ‘On A Mission’ helped us escape to a strobe-lit city filled with opportunity, bringing the pleasure-seeking thrills of London’s underground to its humdrum surface. The 24-year-old Queen Of Clubs has paved the way for new blood: Rudimental, Jessie Ware, Disclosure – heck, the rosters of PMR and Black Butter Records have her basement revolution to thank. She led. They followed. Katy soon graduated from Rinse FM darling to dubstep pop star, while giving London’s soundtrack a kick up the arse. Mission accomplished.
Unfortunately, most fun worth having comes with consequences. As competition sprung up behind every soundsystem, Katy’s own return with follow-up LP ‘Little Red’ has felt like a slow-starter, struggling to get going the morning after. With its release date constantly wobbling, staggered by the ‘Danger’ EP in 2012, then drip-fed by a pair of singles including (uh-oh) a sobering club ballad called ‘Crying For No Reason’, the nights out had seemingly left Katy heartbroken and her glass empty. Was the good-time instigator now in need of her own pick-me-up, having fallen out of love with dancing? Had Katy B been stung by reckless hedonism? “Life isn’t one constant party,” she recently told NME.
Well, don’t shelve your Reebok Classics just yet. If ‘Crying For No Reason’ threw a spanner in the works, ‘Little Red’ (co-created with her partner-in-crime and Rinse FM founder Geeneus) immediately sends it hurtling in the opposite direction. Its opening 1-2-3 punch reintroduces Katy as your hostess-with-the-mostest from the first words of ‘Next Thing’: Keep your jacket on my friend, don’t sit down/There’s so many things to do round here, let me show you around”. As she powers up her vocals over the multi-textured chorus, you’ll be negotiating the guestlist to join the next wave of her uprising. Recent single ‘5AM’ follows with a cheeky, self-assured wink (“That beat’s so sick, that tune’s so ill”) as our subterranean raconteur treats the club space like a shop floor, searching for “a little loving like Valium” to wind down her evening. ‘Aaliyah’ (from the ‘Danger’ EP) is a garage re-imagining of Dolly Parton’s ‘Jolene’ that shares verses with Jessie Ware. Now that’s genius, and that’s why we’ve been dancing to it since December 2012.
There’s a sense of safe familiarity with ‘Little Red’ and a danger of top-heaviness. While ‘I Like You’ apes the slink-and-grate of Disclosure’s ‘Grab Her’, you’d be hard-pushed to get the crowd jumping to the downtempo, Joker-produced ‘All My Loving’. And then there’s the lull. Where her diverse debut melded futuristic beats into Mediterranean grooves, ‘Little Red’ abandons variety for the samey-samey tempo of several forgettable fillers. The drum’n’bass euphoria of ‘Emotions’ and Jacques Greene contribution ‘Sapphire Blue’ pull things back at the 11th hour – but not before revellers have likely dashed for the last train home.
So here’s what happens when the life and soul of the party starts requesting patience from an audience that demands constant entertainment. But like maturity itself, ‘Little Red’ is a grower, a record about learning to dust off heartache and returning to the scene of the crime. We’ll see how this washes with Katy’s crowd, who only want to be taken from their own city toil into the arms of a handsome stranger, and don’t care for warnings about how they might get their dreams broken along the way. Katy B’s toughest challenge will be to hold their imaginations until sunrise.