Tuesday 22 July 2014

La Roux - Trouble In Paradise

Nine?  Only nine tracks?  Is that it?

Well, yes actually.  ‘Trouble In Paradise’ has been five years in the making and at first glance its track list may seem a bit underwhelming.  Yet surely a tight and concise album of pop gems is preferable to an overly long album packed with filler?

That’s exactly what La Roux have delivered.  Now the solo project of the quiffed androgynous singer Elly Jackson, in one respect little has changed since the self-titled debut – her soft, restrained vocals are still just as distinctive and the 80s synthpop production is as clean and precise as before.  Since the departure of Ben Langmaid on production however, ‘Trouble In Paradise’ is very much the voice of a single artist and it’s all the better for it.

Jackson covers some dark territory on this album, but there remains a playfulness in the production.  Specifically, this is evident in the buoyant playground melodies of Kiss And Not Tell or the catchy “money money money” hook in Sexotheque.  Even on a broader scale, there’s a greater willingness to vary the stylistic formula: from the funky guitars of opener Uptight Downtown that establishes less reliance on pure synths, to the melancholic ballad Paradise Is You, the exoticism of Tropical Chancer, and the 80s stomp of Silent Partner.  The MIDI sounds of the latter especially are so 80s they may as well have been ripped straight from an arcade machine. 

Mostly, though, ‘Trouble In Paradise’ offers far greater sophistication and maturity in the songwriting (as clichéd as that sounds).  Cruel Sexuality, for instance, could easily be read as an exploration of conflicted sexuality summed up with the line “you make me happy in my everyday life, why do you keep me in a prison at night?” – although Jackson has preferred not to bow to the pressures of society and has avoided questions regarding her sexual orientation.  And of course it’s wrapped up in a sumptuous pop groove that builds its layers towards the final chorus.  Followed by the ironically titled Paradise Is You, it’s clear that love is never simple, no matter what your sexuality.  Indeed, one of the major themes of the album is the emptiness of lost love – something that the upbeat Sexotheque provides a different slant on (“she wants to know why he’s not home…he’s at the sexotheque”). 

The masterpiece of the album, though, is Let Me Down Gently.  Jackson perfectly encapsulates the pain of a break-up with someone you admire, respect and ultimately still love.  “But when you let me down gently, it still feels hard”, she mourns, “you’re not my life but I want you in it”.  That emptiness rears its head in one of the best breaks of recent pop – an empty void at the song’s core like a silent scream, before plunging us into the beat-heavy second half and its saxophone outcry.  Vocally too, Jackson’s performance is imbued with raw feeling.  This is simply sublime sad-pop.

So yes, ‘Trouble In Paradise’ may only be nine tracks long.  But with less bleeps and bloops and more warmth and human emotion, this is a consistently brilliant and honest pop package that pairs truthfulness with undeniable hooks.  It’s one of the finest pop albums of the year.


Gizzle’s Choice:
* Cruel Sexuality
* Silent Partner
* Let Me Down Gently

Listen: ‘Trouble In Paradise’ is available now.