Album Review: La Roux, 'Trouble in Paradise'

When La Roux arrived in 2009 with its Grammy-winning self-titled debut, the U.K. duo's music smacked of the future. Sure, the songs were rooted in '80s synth-pop, but the steely beats and singer Elly Jackson's unflappability suggested that mainstream music was morphing into something mechanically sleek, stylish and forward-looking. And then the group disappeared, as Jackson's vocal problems, exhaustion and friction with bandmate Ben Langmaid stalled album No. 2. Now, Jackson, 26, is back as a solo artist still using the La Roux name, with an enjoyable but unspectacular album.

The lean nine-track offering finds Jackson swiveling away from icy electronica toward Technicolor disco, with cheekily titled songs like "Sexotheque" flashing funk guitar and percussion. Jackson's piercing wit is still present, but her vocals are warmer, her words now soaring alongside tracks instead of stabbing into them. "I hope it doesn't seem like I'm young, foolish and green/Let me in for a minute, you're not my life but I want you in it," she laments on "Let Me Down Gently." La Roux's sound, now overseen by Jackson and co-producer Ian Sherwin, has become more organic, and Jackson's presence as a frontwoman has evolved alongside it.

"Trouble in Paradise" is buoyant enough to soundtrack hipster barbecues during the next few months, but La Roux's music should be more than just background noise. The act's debut, led by top 10 hit "Bulletproof," had the potential to rearrange the rules of pop. Its ­follow-up is a welcome, long-awaited return after a troubled hiatus, but it hums along comfortably without striking any innovative poses. In the past Jackson has demonstrated the ability to dazzle, and perhaps she will again on future projects. Until then, "Trouble in Paradise" provides a pleasurable but dispensable stopgap.


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