Katy B’s debut, ‘On A Mission’, was a huge success, even gaining a Mercury Prize nomination. But it wasn’t meant to be a Katy B album. In a recent interview with Clash Magazine, she noted that “[album producer] Geeneus wanted to put together an album of all of the different Rinse producers. He asked me if I’d be interested in singing over that, and of course I was. After a while, though, it just turned into my album”. It goes someway to explaining why the album lacks a bit of Katy’s personality, her voice rarely rising above featured vocalist. Few could deny, though, that the pop-dance crossover had serious potential.
Now, with follow up ‘Little Red’, she’s fulfilled that potential. Anyone who listened to her four-track ‘Danger’ EP last year will be familiar with her newfound confidence. Lead single Aaliyah, featuring Jessie Ware, is the only track to make it to the full album – a huge club record with a woman-to-woman, Jolene-esque plea in its lyrics.
‘Little Red’ feels far more like a Katy B record than ‘On A Mission’. Again, she’s written the songs herself but her songwriting has mostly improved since the immaturity of the last album. She may still be working with familiar dancefloor tropes ("that beat so sick, that tune so ill" being a particularly terrible lyric), but ‘Little Red’ is a more personal and honest listen – something that’s immediately apparent from current single Crying For No Reason. It might feature expansive synths and a pounding beat, but it’s very much a ballad with its chorus of “crying for no reason, feel the tears roll down”, whilst the vocal performance soars with more power than before.
The rest of the album comprises plenty of club bangers, again produced by Geeneus. Lead single 5 AM twists love into a drug (“I need some loving like Valium”), its infectious pulse contrasting with downbeat melodies; I Like You is a coy confession of romance paired with syncopated basslines; All My Lovin’ is a more contemporary take on dubstep; and Everything is a trance-like take on devotion. As with ‘On A Mission’, ‘Little Red’ fuses contemporary dance styles, but here the tracks lean more heavily on dance than pop for a more serious sound that’s no less appealing to mainstream audiences. There’s even a glistening duet with Sampha on Play – a futuristic track with a future star.
A late highlight, though, is Emotions – a song that flips the sound on its head. The beats are muted (until the final crashing chorus at least), leaving only the synth chords to provide a pulse. It allows her vocal to truly take the fore as she belts out “fill me with emotion” – the effect is truly euphoric. It’s proof that, whilst she’s settled into a confident groove, Katy B isn’t afraid to change up the formula. As she sings from the heart throughout, it’s clear that ‘Little Red’ is the personal album that ‘On A Mission’ could never be.
* Crying For No Reason
Listen: 'Little Red' is released on 10th February.