Sunday, July 05, 2009

Album Review: La Roux - La Roux (4.5/5)

Just last week I declared Little Boots' Hands my favorite pop album of the year, and already I have found its successor. La Roux is a brilliant debut album. Every song works well, revealing both great songwriting, appealing hooks and charming details.

Like a lot of recently launched British pop acts, La Roux's album has been preceded by an envious level of pre-release buzz, generated through key media and judicious release of a few singles (first the quiet release of "Quicksand" and then the full-scale release of "In for the Kill"). Thus duo Elly Jackson and Ben Langmaid's debut arrives with quite developed expectations, seeing as their single "In for the Kill" is the third best-selling single of the year (behind only Lady GaGa's hits).

The album opens with a number of high-energy tracks, several of which have already been hits. "In for the Kill" possesses the best bass charge of any pop song released this year. This song has really grown on me over the months, becoming one of my favorites so far this year. "Tigerlily" has a similar charge, with even sharper beats over a more minimal synth melody. Near the end, the song includes a creepy "Thriller"-esque spoken word section. With Michael Jackson on everyone's mind at the moment, it's a nice reminder of his enduring musical influence. Even more so, La Roux's sound is deeply indebted to Thriller-era pop music.

"Quicksand" makes use of (synthetic?) kettle drums, which show up more prominently on "I'm Not Your Toy," giving it a breezy Caribbean flavor. "Bulletproof," the latest single and recent #1 hit, completes the opening energetic salvo, before La Roux shifts gears to moodier, quieter material.

"Colourless Color" has a darker sound, with slower verses that give way to quicker-tempoed choruses. My favorite part of the song is the middle eight, where a raspy synth line gets covered in successive layers of beats and bass. Very cool. "Cover My Eyes" is the album's first ballad. Normally, a song like this on a electronic pop album would be a low point, but credit La Roux for instead delivering a pop ballad with a great melody and genuine emotional punch. Jackson has said that a 5-year relationship (apparently a bad one) was the inspiration for many of these songs, and the heartache comes out loud and clear here.

"As If By Magic" returns us to the uptempo and very '80s side of La Roux. It's going to be hard to choose future singles from this album, because there's so many that would work well. This song has a particularly strong melody, although melody is not lacking on this album. "Fascination" works well too. "Armour Love" is an appropriately restrained closing number, with rich synths driving the melody.

Like a lot of pop duos (Goldfrapp, Roxette, Eurythmics), La Roux puts the lady out front, with the gent playing more of a supporting role. In their case, it may be the one thing that I'm not completely sold about. Elly Jackson is clearly a talented musician, but she's not the greatest singer. Her voice can be a bit shrill and doesn't seem to have much range. It's the only drawback in an otherwise completely satisfying package.

Best: In for the Kill, Quicksand, Bulletproof, Colourless Color, Tigerlily, Cover My Eyes, As If By Magic, Armour Love


Yuяi said...

This is such a great album! In the running for "Album of the Year" over at my blog. I totally agree that picking future singles will be either easy or difficult because most tracks seem perfect as singles, especially "As If By Magic".

ww_adh said...

I think it's probably my favorite album so far this year. It's really suprisingly excellent and it just grows on you with repeated listens. It's interesting--whenever I find an album I really love, I know its the case because whatever song I'm really into changes every few days. Right now it's "Colourless Colour," a few days ago it was "Tigerlily," and of course "In for the Kill" before that.