CD Review – La Roux

Band: La Roux
Album
: La Roux
Label
: Cherry Tree
Release Date: Out now
By BTP

$9.99

It took just over six months for La Roux to go from issuing their first single on Kitsune to topping the U.K. charts. That’s a swift rise — one that was years in the making, of course — but after hearing their self-titled debut, it’s easy to understand their sudden fame: La Roux’s take on ’80s synth pop is as unique as it is familiar. Their inspirations, which include Blancmange and the Eurythmics, might be decades old and well-known, but the originals’ spare coldness can still sound weird, and La Roux shows just how committed they are to that chilly oddness and catchiness. They use only the brittlest drums and tinniest synths on these songs–if anything, it feels like La Roux’s gear is more limited than the original group’s were. They even have the proper synth pop lineup: La Roux is a duo (though singer Elly Jackson gets most of the limelight). However, their devotion transcends kitsch, even if Jackson’s asymmetrical copper wedge of a hairdo suggests otherwise. Yet La Roux aren’t purists. “Tigerlily”‘s tough-girl stance mixes 8-bit arpeggios with a creepy, “Thriller”-style spoken word bridge, and “Reflections Are Protection”‘s bass and synths nod to electro. While style is a large part of La Roux’s substance, it never feels slick, and that’s due to Jackson’s voice as much as it is the group’s intentionally stiff sounds–in fact, it’s the way that her vocals interact with those sounds that makes these songs so dynamic. Jackson can be shrill and almost synthetic-sounding when she hits high notes, especially on the breakout hit “In for the Kill,” but her lower register–which she uses beautifully on “Colourless Colour”–is throaty and very human. Her characters are either running toward or away from desperate love affairs, but like other skilled popsmiths, La Roux know how to give pain a sweet and shiny veneer. Nowhere is this clearer than on “Quicksand,” which uses a relentlessly tight arrangement and Jackson’s frosty soulfulness to give the song’s obsession a shot of excitement. And though the chart-topping “Bulletproof” is feisty and “As If by Magic” is wistful, both songs use wishes and daydreams as armor against further heartache. La Roux’s dedication to their aesthetic makes this an album where the songs are variations on a theme. That devotion also makes La Roux a standout, not just among the many other ’80s revivalists, but the entire late-2000s pop landscape.

Rolling Stone (p.78) – 4 stars out of 5 — “Jackson and Langmaid are not coy about their 1980s New Wave inspiration….But that just fives them an extra jolt of glam arrogance.”
Spin (p.80) – “[I]f there’s a pop record this year more swaggeringly punk than `Bulletproof,’ bring it on.”

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President of Looney Tunes CD Store and Brookvale Records.

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