Monday 9 July 2012

Lianne La Havas - Is Your Love Big Enough

It cannot be disputed that Lianne La Havas has a sumptuous vocal, purring her way through 'Is Your Love Big Enough' with affecting delicacy.  However, her debut album straddles the flimsy line between soulful jazz and boring lounge music.  As a whole, it's a collection of songs that lack bite.

One reason for this is that much of the album's material has already been released on La Havas's EPs 'Lost & Found' and 'Forget'.  Shouldn't an EP be just a tantalizing taster, the entrée to the album's main course? Instead, the EPs have taken the sting out of the final product. The album's best material is already familiar, leaving no room for surprises.

For new listeners, though, there is much to enjoy - especially for fans of Corinne Bailey Rae or Michael Kiwanuka.  No Room For Doubt is the album's centrepiece, a four minute lullaby that epitomises La Havas's style: gentle, soulful vocals and honest lyrics backed by a lilting guitar pattern.  Age follows suit, this time with lyrics of cheeky humour that relay a relationship with an older man - "I kinda know this other guy but he's rather old enough to be my father" she croons.  Tease Me, in the album's latter stages, shares similar instrumentation but is forgettable.  Lost & Found and Gone swap the guitar for piano - the former a hushed, personal tale of a breaking relationship ("you broke me and taught me to truly hate myself"), the latter a more intense and rare outburst of grief that strikes a chord with the heart.

The most exciting songs are those that stray from the typical formula and turn up the tempo.  The title track has La Havas confessing she "found [herself] in a second-hand guitar", all hand-clap rhythms, funk guitars and wailing harmonies.  Au Cinéma depicts a couple watching their relationship as in a movie, the music shuffling along like the turning of a film projector. The production of Forget is the most intricately layered, an interplay of vocal lines, guitar rhythms and grungy synths. "Please don't try to serenade me, I am a one-man-band" she snarls, yet her music sparkles with the enhanced accompaniment.

As you can guess, love is the key subject matter, but unlike the raw open-wounds of Adele these songs are still pretty in their grief.  Elusive is a prime example, a cover of Scott Matthews that swaps the acoustic guitar for lush harmonies, all emotion lost in a wave of prettiness.  As a result, 'Is Your Love Big Enough' is an album of nice, lovely, safe songs - subtle in their beauty though unlikely to stand out from the crowd.  Her vocal may be angelic and full of love, but it's not big enough to sustain our attention.


Gizzle's Choice:

* Au Cinéma
* No Room For Doubt
* Forget

Listen: 'Is Your Love Big Enough' is available now.

Watch: La Havas is performing at a number of major festivals throughout the summer.