When La Roux arrived in 2009 with its Grammy-winning self-titled debut album, the U.K. duo’s music smacked of the future. Sure, the songs were rooted in British 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 number two. Now, Jackson, 26, is back as a solo artist, with a lavish, enjoyable, but unspectacular album that dares to change course instead of furthering “La Roux’s” revolutions.
The lean, nine-track offering finds Jackson swiveling away from icy electronica toward technicolor disco, with cheekily titled tracks 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 over 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,” flashed at 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. Jackson has demonstrated the ability to dazzle in the past, and perhaps she will again on future projects. Until then, “Trouble In Paradise” provides a pleasurable, but dispensable stopgap.
Which songs on the La Roux are must-listens? Check out our track-by-track breakdown of “Trouble In Paradise”:
1. Uptight Downtown
Unlike the rapid-fire “Bulletproof,” the lead single from “Trouble In Paradise” moves viscously, gliding along with a funk guitar riff until it unexpectedly clamps down on a delicious groove in the final 30 seconds.
2. Kiss and Not Tell
A frisky combination of riffs — creeping guitars, squealing synthesizers and thumping bass — and Jackson’s giddy vocal take make “Kiss and Not Tell” an effervescent treat.
3. Cruel Sexuality
Whereas the first two songs on “Trouble In Paradise” offered candy-colored dance, “Cruel Sexuality” is all static energy until the chorus arrives and carries a yearning falsetto. “Oh, you make me happy in my everyday life/Why must you keep me in your prison at night?” Jackson demands, grasping for a black-and-white ideal that does not exist.
4. Paradise Is You
Jackson tries her hand at a majestic ballad reminiscent of the pure-hearted pop of U.K. girl groups like Girls Aloud and the Pipettes. “Paradise Is You” is a necessary breather after the uptempo run at the top of the album, and although the lush arrangement goes on for about a minute too long, Jackson’s pillowy voice never grows tiresome.
Conflicting interests — she wants to “settle down,” he wants to “mess around” — separate a couple (or is it all women and men?) on “Sexotheque,” a kicky proclamation on the emptiness of promiscuity.
6. Tropical Chancer
A slinky warning against a man who will “take the money and the food that’s in your hand,” “Tropical Chancer” is once again immaculately constructed but only if you overlook the inelegant lyrics.
7. Silent Partner
The song on “Trouble In Paradise” that would make the most sense on “La Roux,” “Silent Partner” is sexy, biting and brilliant in its ornate movements and unapologetic attitude. The electronic landscape is cold and dangerous, and Jackson sounds genuinely pissed-off while spitting lines over a drum machine.
8. Let Me Down Gently
Four songs after “Paradise Is You” stumbled slightly as an atmosphere ballad, “Let Me Down Gently” soars by reveling in its emotional honesty. As Jackson pleads for a sense of peace, the track expertly raises in intensity until abruptly shutting off five and a half minutes in.
9. The Feeling
“Takin’ the time to make me feel right,” Jackson begins on the fluttery closer “The Feeling,” a line that nods to her prolonged recording absence. The faceless harmonies form their own kind of backdrop, as Jackson’s narrator shines next to her romantic partner and ends the album on a positive note.