ALBUM: Trouble In Paradise
ARTIST: La Roux
It feels like decades have passed since La Roux released “Bulletproof” back in 2009 and ignited her futuristic pop stardom. Five years is an eternity in the world of pop music, so it makes sense that the clamor for the follow-up to her explosive debut has slowly escalated. With a wait like this expectations elevate alongside fan anxiety. For La Roux, the pressure to make the best sophomore record as possible enhanced when Elly Jackson’s bandmate Ben Langmaid dropped out of the band. Though he had contributed to the writing of the record, she had to continue on her own, bringing their name’s translation of “red-haired one” to a more literal light. On the final product, her highly anticipated sophomore record Trouble in Paradise, it feels like she hit the iconic slump everyone worries about. While the record boasts polished and pure pop, Jackson has lost her edge in a big way by relying heavily on cliché disco tropes.
What made La Roux’s debut go the extra mile was the sheer edginess of the sound, with Jackson’s vocal chops added in for good measure. It was pop, but it embraced the brashness of punk in the punchy lyrics and vocal delivery. This record, on the other hand, is much softer. The beats aren’t as tight, her vocals are more buried in the mix, and it’s covered in a glossy layer of distortion. At times, she really executes this new sound well, like in the languid and achingly romantic “Paradise is You.” But the rest is really missing some driving spark that pulses through the songs and gives them life. In their hit “Bulletproof,” that passion was Jackson’s voice at the front and center, driving the song in the hearts and heads of dance floor dwellers. Without it, they remain archetypes of the mediocre pop model dancing around tropes of New Wave and disco. The real disappointment is that, musically, it’s not too innovative or interesting. In fact, there seems to be some heavy lifts of Bowie, with that “Let’s Dance” horn riff appearing in a significant number of songs, most prominently in “Uptight Downtown.” At first appearance, it conjures a nice dose of familiarity; soon, the pattern becomes tired and over-utilized.
The songs suffer in other ways, too—a significant facet being her lyrics. In this collection of songs, she explores unfulfilling relationships, romantic longing, and other life conflicts; it’s very easy to process. However, the lyrics seem to try too hard to fit into the rigid pop poetry model that they feel uninspired. Take these lyrics from “Uptight Downtown,” for example: “Streets are lined with people with nothing else to lose, lose, lose/When did all these people decide to change their shoes, shoes, shoes.” Rhyming for the sake of rhyming certainly adds a fun flavor to the song’s catchiness, but the borderline tacky means to get there take away some of her creative integrity.
La Roux played it safe this time around. At best, it’s a middling of songs that never become fully realized. At the end of the day, what they really have going for them is their sheer catchiness. It’s a promise that you’ll have little bits of each of them stuck in your head for hours, and looking at the song titles will only conjure the hooks again and again. The songs may be only okay, but you surely won’t forget them.
“Where is rationality, when I’m lost inside a dream?”