REVIEW BY: Michael Broyles
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 05/05/2010
The first time I heard La Roux was on a late, insomnia-inspired night spent dogsitting for my parents and watching slews of music videos on VHI. For awhile after, my listening to La Roux was sparse at best. The appeal of my initial listen quickly wore off, as did my fascination with their self-described androgynous singer Elly Jackson. The first time I experienced La Roux, though, was in the form of a sample while listening to techno-duo Designer Drugs during a car ride through Berkeley, California last Saturday. (The driver provided the soundtrack). That is when I concluded: La Roux is the future.
I have heard many well-founded comparisons of La Roux to 1980’s synth pop. The singer/synthesizer duo harkens back to the days of Soft Cell and every song has a hint of Prince’s “When Doves Cry,” but La Roux’s self-titled debut offers much more than Darkness-style nostalgia. Members Elly Jackson and Ben Langmaid compose heartfelt, danceable songs with clever lyrics. Literally meaning “the redhead” (the French male form), the female red-haired singer and her synth-playing partner defy all expectation.
The album starts out strong with the first four songs being the best. “In For The Kill” mixes an anthem-like club hit with a beautiful bridge and insightful lyrics such as “They say we can love who we trust / Oooh but what is love without lust?” (How true is that?). “Tigerlily” continues the emotive-robot sound with a dramatic melody. “Quicksand” amplifies the drama with musical tension and lyrical desperation as Jackson sings “Oh when you turn me on / I’m in the Quicksand.” Lastly, “Bulletproof,” La Roux’s biggest US single, is a feel-good dancefloor smash extolling the joys of noncommittal love as opposed to the heartbreak of romance. Jackson sings “I’m not turned on to love until it’s cheap.” Cheap love, dance clubs, and androgyny – sounds like the night of my dreams.
The appeal of these first four songs is that they work just as well in a club as they do at home. In this respect, La Roux is very much like Prince. The remaining songs, while solid, never match the magic of the first four. The two melancholy ballads, “Colourless Colour” and “Cover My Eyes,” showcase Jackson’s ability to convey vulnerability and introspection in a pop setting. The rest are still fun and well written but I got a sense that they do not live up to La Roux’s true potential.
Potential is precisely what I gained from listening to La Roux. While Lady Gaga may be the most popular artist amongst the synth pop revivalists, I have a hunch that La Roux’s musical influence will permeate composers, artists, and listeners to come. The progression from fusion to synth pop to hip-hop to techno to La Roux’s techno-pop seems natural and cathartic. Although they are influenced by the 1980’s, La Roux seems like the perfect group to usher music fans into the 21st century. We have arrived to the future, folks. Welcome.