Katy B – ‘On A Mission’

The British pop debut of 2011

Of all the acts tipped to make waves in 2011, only [a]Katy B[/a] appears to be bulletproof. Fairly or no, the anointed likes of [a]Jessie J[/a], [a]James Blake[/a] and [a]Jamie Woon[/a] have all undergone backlashes of varying shapes and sizes since tastemakers hailed them as future idols way back in January. But somehow, the 21-year-old from Peckham just keeps on trucking.

It might not seem so weird, if the ammunition wasn’t already there for her to go down in a hail of harshly worded bullets. Like [a]Jessie J[/a], Katy’s a graduate of the BRIT School powerhouse, which in today’s posh-fearing climate is like telling people you offed your granny in exchange for a career. Second, her debut was originally hatched as a showcase for DJs running with urban-pirates-gone-legit Rinse FM, with Katy’s inclusion sounding suspiciously like a deal-sweetener for the wider listening public.

Factor in the inclusion of B’s star-making vocal from Magnetic Man’s ‘Perfect Stranger’ on the record, and it all adds up to a cynical exercise in money-driven pop careerism, right? Er, wrong: ‘On A Mission’ is hands-down pop debut of the year, marking the arrival of a completely credible, fresh-faced, mischievous talent to draw the proverbial moustaches on pop’s gallery of gurning grotesques.

You’ll know the singles by now — ‘Katy On A Mission’’s thumping intro with Benga’s chainsaw synths swimming unforgettably into view, the inspired, ragga-tinged [a]Ms Dynamite[/a] hook-up ‘Lights On’, and the angelic yearning of ‘Broken Record’. But the album’s pleasures are far from ending there. ‘Power On Me’ serves notice of the album’s killer intent, Rinse boss Geeneus lays on a noirish, garage backdrop as Katy conjures the ghost of chart divas past like Ce Ce Peniston: “Ooooh, does it make you feel good, knowing that you could have power on me?”

‘Why You Always Here’ brings the UK funky stuff she made her name with, while ‘Witches Brew’ rides in on a strident electro beat and ricocheting, pinball synths. It’s undermined slightly by the lurch into hackneyed arena-rave on the chorus, but that’s a minor quibble at best.

‘Go Away’’s a big dubstep number that’s dwarfed by its vaulting, R&B chorus, and ‘Movement’ does the kind of cruising, leather-upholstered house Sophie Ellis-Bextor would have killed for during her post-‘Groovejet’ comedown. Meanwhile, ‘Easy Please Me’ showcases Katy’s strangely wholesome brand of lyrical sass, poking fun at the rude-boy mentality over a rakish dubstep beat and evil, ringtone synths (“These days I can’t find a man to please me/their lines are far too cheesy”).

It ends with the über-chill house of ‘Hard To Get’, which is typical of the record’s open-hearted generosity – absurdly, brilliantly, Katy even rounds out the track with big-ups to her family and friends and somehow you’re still laughing with her, not at her. But then again, that’s ‘On A Mission’ all over: fuck-all pretension or focus-grouped attitudinising, buckets and buckets of tunes. What more could you possibly want?

Alex Denney

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