Album review: Little Boots – ‘Hands’

Ms Hesketh almost lays claim to her throne as the new queen of pop

Listen to tracks from ‘Hands’ now

Let’s just get this out of the way: POP! Once, at the height of alt.rock, it was the most critically reviled of genres, now in an era where the alternative is mainstream, it’s the most lusted-after and over-intellectualised.

And new pop’s bijou Boadicea? Who else but Victoria Hesketh, an average northern girl blessed with the talent to charm the airwaves like a drunk snake, cursed with the over-exposure of new-year hype hysteria.

Beneath the false-eyelashed perfection of her press shots, though, there’s a story much more inspiring than the usual girlband rags-to-riches tale. Having tried it all (punk, pop, prog, lounge jazz, Pop Idol) and nearly making it with Dead Disco, Victoria ended up back at square one. So, she rolled up her sleeves, stripped back to basics and hit gold.

Pop, though, actual pop that sells like pop as opposed to the shiny ideology beloved of critics, is the trickiest of crafts. Most chart-pop records have two, maybe three bright flashes of brilliance. Britney’s first album: you listened to ‘(You Drive Me) Crazy’, ‘…Baby One More Time’ and ‘Email My Heart’ just because it was hysterically bad, then you put ‘…Crazy’ on again. Despite the many claims put forward for their genius, Girls Aloud actually have about one album of decent songs from five released. Someone with Victoria Hesketh’s talent doesn’t want to make an album that sounds like Kelly Clarkson. As the cherrypicked choices she made on her YouTube ‘Fun Times’ cover series would tell you, she wants to make 12 tracks that are all as heart-joltingly amazing as ‘Since U Been Gone’.

But perfect pop is not something you can design; it’s an alchemical accident resulting from a freakish alignment of melody, words and rhythm that unifies all who hear it, an H1N1 strain of music. That Little Boots so nearly achieves the ultimate chart-slaying, cerebral-cortex tickling, Bradford-hen-party-and-Shoreditch-rave-soundtracking album is, frankly, amazing.

‘New In Town’’s Spice Girls sauciness, its scribbled on-the-back of an envelope chorus (“I’m gonna take you out tonight/I’m gonna make you feel alright”) is brilliantly casual. ‘Earthquake’ is a strikingly affecting, emotionally naked galactic banger. ‘Stuck On Repeat’ is probably the best, most unified minimal dance-pop song since Kylie’s ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’. ‘No Brakes’ is brittle and heartfelt, with a chorus that you find yourself singing days later without even remembering who it’s by.

But there are, inevitably, weak spots: ‘Remedy’ is run-of-the-mill, ‘Tune In To My Heart’ wet and cutesy. ‘Symmetry’, her duet with the fop-fringed cavalier of underground-overground pop, Phil Oakey of The Human League, is only good because of him. ‘Hearts Collide’ is too coy by half, and kind of aimless.

If Little Boots is to remain at her best, she’s going to have to block out the voices of the pop evangelists. ‘Stuck On Repeat’ is an amazing pop track just because it’s not trying to be. Self-consciousness, as any quick comparison between early and late Madonna will tell you, is the death of pop.

The hidden track, ‘Broken Heart’, strips back to the bare bones of Hesketh’s songwriting: a girl, a piano. Its tale of a girl with a fractured soul who tried to fix it with technology and in the end went, prosaically, “to the shop and bought some Sellotape and glue”, is revealing. The album title is from here: “I didn’t need any help/I just needed my hands”.

Little Boots gives us an inspiring story of self-realisation and a brilliant album. Which is better than perfection, anyway. Perfection’s got great hair, it dances like a animatronic robot. But it’s not very human.

Emily Mackay

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