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Reviews

La Roux
La Roux Ben Hewitt , July 2nd, 2009 12:30

Good Lord. One minute you're in an interview giving off-the-cuff answers in response to questions about female sexuality, the next you're being pilloried by all and sundry for being anti-feminist. La Roux's (or, in real-life terms, singer Elly Jackson's) assertion that women trapped in abusive relationships have themselves to blame may have smacked by naivety and caused outrage from everyone ranging to readers of The Quietus to bloggers at The Guardian, but isn't that we want our pop stars to do? To make the outrageous and controversial statements or, at the very least, offer the odd opinion which stops them from displaying all the personality of beige wallpaper (we're looking at you, Duffy and Leona Lewis)? Because in the midst of this debate, that's what is being overlooked: La Roux is one of the most brilliantly bonkers pop stars to come out of Britain in the last twenty years. The ebullient personality; the space-aged quiff; the traces of alluring androgyny. In the current climate of manufactured pop music, La Roux resembles the 21st centuries very own Thin White Duchess.

None of this would matter if she didn't have the substance to back up her style, but while the actual music is the Achilles heel for many a dashing pop hopeful, the tunes are La Roux's trump card. Owing much to the sonic wizardry of co-writer Ben Langmaid, La Roux is a perfect blend of razor-sharp pop hooks and lush 80s electronica that pitches itself firmly in the same synth-laden territories as The Human League and The Pet Shops Boys but infuses it with a jolt of modern day electricity. With tepid R n B and faux hip-hop eschewed in favour of sparkling melodies and ruthlessly catchy choruses that will lodge themselves in your brain for months upon end, it's one of the most polished and well-rounded pure pop albums to be produced for absolutely aeons.

The most obvious example of this deft-pop nous, of course, is the unit shifting behemoth 'In For The Kill' which, despite endless repeated airplay, hasn't lost any of its shine. It's magic combination of airy, floating vocals and irresistible chorus still sounds magnificent, but it's only the first in a slew of potentially corking smash-hit singles. 'Bulletproof' takes the rejected lover's spirit of Gloria Gaynor's 'I Will Survive' but gives it a brilliant electro-pop coated varnish that trades a 70's disco for a 00's dirty dance club, complete with pulsating drums and a vocal dripping with attitude. Elsewhere, 'Quicksand' explores darker but equally alluring pastures over a backdrop of atmospheric, stabbing synthesisers as Jackson picks over the pieces of a dark and doomed romance. Her rueful observation that "All you do is kick me back in the dirt" made almost unbearably visceral with the backdrop of thundering handclaps and throbbing melodies, a motif revisited near the album's close in the sticky smears of lingering resignation that stain 'Resignation' and Jackson's obsessive confession that "tonight I followed you home".

These three minute slices of brilliance are undeniably splendid, but it's the ability of Jackson and Langmaid to lower the pace without losing the listener that truly sets La Roux apart from its contemporaries. The sleek and sophisticated 'As If By Magic' and 'I'm Not Your Toy' retain a glossy sheen even without breakneck speed and vocal histrionics; meanwhile, for all the detractors of Jackson's voice - and at times it does seem dangerously close to approaching a frequency only dogs can hear - she spits out a fantastically brash Brixton-charged yelp on 'Tigerlily' which makes her promise to "give you all you want" seem a reason for fear rather than excitement.

Perhaps the truest testimony to the success of La Roux , however, is the tremendous ballads it has tucked away. Usually the bane of even the best of pop acts as the occasionally brilliant Girls Aloud will testify - for every 'Biology' they released, there's a wishy-washy 'Stand By You' - La Roux reject overblown cliché and sentiment in favour of good old-fashioned matters of the heart. The aching 'Cover My Eyes' is a beautiful evocation of jealousy which will be familiar to anyone who's felt the pang of regret when seeing an ex-lover wrapped up with someone, but it's melancholy without being mushy, aided by piercing synthesisers and Jackson's slow, breathy vocal, and all wrapped up in a killer chorus. The closing track, 'Armour Love', meanwhile, is another corker that is touching without being saccharine, with its desperate plea of "When you leave me alone in this world/You know that I'm in hell" layered over a hazy, dreamy backdrop. To go from pulse-quickening smash hit-singles to heart-breaking ballads without missing a beat is pretty special, but then, La Roux are pretty special in general. When pop music is this smart, this fun, and this stunning, who cares what you say? Right now, it's what La Roux is singing that really counts.

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