, June 11th, 2009 09:54
Nothing quite fits Little Boots. When someone asks, "what's she like, then?" you find yourself floundering. She's great, but she's not too bothered about what pop should be; for Victoria Hesketh, pop just is. She's kind of 80s but not really 80s; considering how thoroughly certain highlights of that decade have been revived and reinvented in our own, it would almost be inauthentic for her to be any other way. Despite its classic synthpop-style machinist song titles ('Click', 'Stuck On Repeat', 'Mathematics') and Hesketh's equipment fetishism, Hands couldn't have been made at any other time — or rather, it could have been made at just about any other time in the last 25 years, in mainland Europe or on the sidelines of British pop, but no one would have noticed.
From one point of view, she typifies the pop world right now: yet another public/performing arts school graduate (they used to just run the business; now they're the product) with success in her DNA; yet another one ready for a those pat-on-the-head stories on TV news programmes ("She made her name on the internet's 'Face Book' and 'You Tube', and was given the BBC Sound Of 2009 award before she'd even released a record!"). From another, she's a self-made, one-woman pop factory from Blackpool who's been through the music biz wringer already (as one of Dead Disco) and come out with the smarts and determination to make something good happen. Forget your 'perfect pop' theorists comfortable in their ghetto — Little Boots has graduated to the actual pop world, with massive campaigns, carefully orchestrated tastemaker releases and two-day trips to LA to bash out world-beating melodies with Swedish/US production titan RedOne. She also looks like a proper pop star should — a lightly freaky role model, someone you'd never mistake for a Hollyoaks actress.
And she has, in Hands, made the kind of album any kid would love to get in their Christmas stocking, and any adult would play to bits for a few weeks. It's not a Dare for 2009, but then Hesketh isn't a true freak working closely with just one mad genius producer; it's hardly surprising that the songs here aren't always quite on speaking terms with each other. What it is, though, is a set of triumphantly effective pop songs that are strong enough, in places, to duke it out with Girls Aloud or Sugababes' finest ('Remedy' is almost all chorus, and what a chorus) and, in others, to beat the cooler kids at their own game (if MGMT had written 'Earthquakes', they'd have a Grammy by now).
"Album pop" is the almost oxymoronic term that applies to much of Hands, but that's not a complaint: even halfway hits such as 'New In Town' (Top 20 in sound as in fact) and 'Stuck On Repeat' (which, co-written with Hot Chip's Joe Goddard with Kylie in mind, proves that the "recursive pop" trick of 'Over And Over' and 'Can't Get You Out Of My Head' doesn't always do the business as convincingly as you'd like it to) are more-ish and likeable. Better still, 'Click' and album closer 'No Brakes' are the kind of gorgeous, sequencer-powered slow-jams The Knife might make if they took the masks off and stopped trying to give everyone nightmares. It's only 'Remedy' and 'Meddle' (another Hesketh/Godard number) that are fit for the premier league, but then you only need two of those per album until it's Greatest Hits time. And while the iced Euro melancholy of 'Ghost' and 'Hearts Collide' is faintly forgettable, it's still not quite filler: Hesketh never shirks her melodic duty. And she certainly doesn't shirk it on the glorious 'Symmetry', on which Phil Oakey himself lends a voice.
It's hard to tell what mark Little Boots will make. Category errors such as her often fall between the cracks; but even if her debut doesn't do the business (Heskeths' voice and persona don't quite match her songwriting and musical talent, after all) she'd no doubt make a great Cathy Dennis-style backroom figure. Either way, no-one's going to feel short-changed by Hands.