Posted by: Nick Walters | August 12, 2009

La Roux

La Mioux

Let’s get it out of the way first: YES, IT IS RETRO. This could have been released in 1982, but for two things: the production, which has a lushness perhaps not achievable with 80s music technology; and a reference to the blandness of “early Nineties decor” in Colourless Colour. Those two things aside, this album could have been, in an alternative history, part of the 80s electropop brigade alongside Yazoo, Erasure, Human League, Eurythmics et al.

So what stops La Roux – the album – being an empty effort in mere revivalism? Which, frankly, it does look and sound like on first acquaintance. I think it’s two things: one, the intent behind it, the choosing of La Roux as a name and personality, the deliberate choice to make the music this way, to make a statement, maybe, about the perceived “coldness” of electronic pop; and two, Elly  Jackson herself – her personality, attitude and emotions, which shine through the package giving real heart to what could be a shallow, disposable experience.

The first thing first. La Roux the persona, the image. It makes for an alluring, compelling, complete package – a lot of thought has been put into this, and it works incredibly well. I got into La Roux by just hearing the name, seeing a photo of Elly with that wonderful hair and reading that she chose the name La Roux because it means “red-headed one”. As a ginger myself, I was interested and amused; so I found In For The Kill on YouTube, and was hooked. Look at that cover – Roxy Music is in there, so is Metropolis, so is Annie Lennox, Gary Numan, androgynous waif-boys and big 80s hair. But in this interview, when asked if she was into 80s revivalism, Elly Jackson responded: “Legwarmers and shoulder pads and bouffant hair, stuff like that, no. This is a fifties-inspired quiff! Get a grip.” So there’s more at work here than plundering the 1980s. In that interview, Elly Jackson comes across as astute, aware, and determined to do things on absolutely her own terms:

I remember Lady Gaga asked me, and I don’t think she knew that I was a duo, [adopts American cocaine fashbitch voice] ‘So who did you make your album with’, so I explained, and she said ‘so who are you going to work with on your next record?’ and I said ‘Ben Langmaid’, [her co-writer] and she said ‘aren’t you going to want to work with other producers, guys like Raekwon or Timbaland or someone like that, you can’t turn that down’. And I said ‘yeah I can’. ‘Cos they wouldn’t know me, and wouldn’t understand me, and if I went out to LA someone would say ‘you’d like nice in a dress’, and I’d have to say ‘fuck you’.”

Which leads into the second factor, Elly herself. Much has been made of the fact that this album was recorded during a difficult relationship break-up, which – if I was feeling cynical – I would say was just another facet of the La Roux sell. But listening to the album – especially the ballads Cover My Eyes and Armour Love – I think there is some truth in it. There is a kind of fragile, embattled melancholy in Elly’s voice, and a personal aspect to the lyrics which contrast effectively with the bold synthetic music.

In For The Kill opens the album, and its only fault is over-familiarity. However it sets the scene perfectly, and sounds amazing coming out of my floor-standers; I’d been used to hearing it on my crappy computer speakers. It begins a run of four songs, all of which sound like massive hits and indeed three were. Tigerlily is a rather sinister song about stalking, complete with Thriller-style monologue by Elly’s dad, which is the album’s only mis-step – it seems out of place, and people are bound to think it was done in honour of Michael Jackson when of course it must have been recorded long before his death. Quicksand follows, its staccato synths building to an overpowering crescendo that sounds amazing on (decent!) headphones. Then comes Bulletproof, finishing the opening quartet. The least effective of the trio of singles, it works well on the album, and it perhaps the most retro song here. There’s even a vocoder bit which sounds exactly like something I’ve heard before but which I can’t quite place – a trick La Roux pull off time and time again.

Colourless Colour slows things down a bit, necessarily after that storming opening quartet. There’s a synth chord in it which recalls Yello’s Desire; intentional? Maybe, maybe not – another clever La Roux ruse (rouxse?!). A milder song, with the aforementioned opaque lyrics about the pastel hues of the 1990s. I love the way Elly pronounces “Colourless Colour” as if it was one word. And there’s a bit where she sings about the sun sinking in to which fair makes the hair on the back of the head stand up.

Next single I’m Not Your Toy is annoying at first, its stylophone riff sounding cheesy, but the chorus is a killer, and it should be another huge hit, though one that detractors will pounce upon.  Cover My Eyes follows, the album’s centrepiece ballad, and, though the emotion really comes through, the music’s reductionist rinky-dinkiness recalls the first Band Of Holy Joy album, a reference I reckon no-one will get, and which I very much doubt is intentional – but you never know. I’d like to think of Elly and Ben listening to Tales From The City and thinking, hey, this is a great sound.

As If By Magic is another low-key affair like Colourless Colour, with a warm synth riff and yet another chorus which lodges itself in the mind for days to come. Fascination follows, and it’s all over the place, especially the vocals – here’s where Elly most resembles Annie Lennox (Touch period). The music reminds me of the Xenomania-produced Lightning Strikes Twice off the last Saint Etienne album. Again, intentional, dunno, maybe.

Reflections are Protections is next – and, I have to say, having two songs with ‘-shun’ rhymes right next to each other on the same album is so knowing and arch it almost turns into a giggling cartoon cat. That it doesn’t sound calculated is another example of the effortless ease of La Roux. It’s the album’s longest and most experimental track and is the direction I’d like to see them take on the next album. Armour Love closes proceedings and is a slow-burning ballad with lovely warm buzzing bleeping synths and lovelorn words from Elly.  But the album isn’t quite over – there’s an extra track, Growing Pains. It’s as good as anything on the album, and should really have come before Armour Love, which is as perfect a closing track as you would want. Still, that’s my only criticism and it probably doesn’t matter in this era of downloads where probably no-one listens to albums as a whole any more. But let’s not get into nostalgia for the days before MP3s or even CDs because, despite the sound of their album, that is plainly NOT what La Roux are about.

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Responses

  1. Great review.

    FWIW There’s also a second bonus track doing the rounds called ‘Saviour’. It’s not very good, though.

  2. A fantastic album. Who cares if it sounds like 1982 when it sounds as good as this?


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