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Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 16 November 2018

Album review: La Roux – Trouble in Paradise

Trouble in Paradise finds La Roux in transition, with some new ideas.
Elly Jackson of La Roux performs at the 2014 Governors Ball Music Festival in New York City. Paul Zimmerman / Getty Images / AFP
Elly Jackson of La Roux performs at the 2014 Governors Ball Music Festival in New York City. Paul Zimmerman / Getty Images / AFP

La Roux

Trouble In Paradise (Polydor)

Three stars

The La Roux singer and all round femme fatale Elly Jackson always had a droll sense of humour. It came as no surprise she called the band’s second album Trouble in Paradise, complete with an image of her pouting at the beach.

Behind the acclaim of their 2009 Grammy Award-winning self-titled debut, the band’s pivotal relationship between Jackson and the producer Ben Langmaid began to fray. Coupled with the stresses of constant touring and increasing creative differences, the partnership eventually dissolved in 2012, with fans wondering if it was the end of La Roux.

The belated follow-up Trouble in Paradise suggests there is still some creative juice in the tank. La Roux may be a Jackson solo project now, but the album also functions as a respectable swan song for Langmaid, who co-wrote five of the nine tracks.

The time apart between albums has not necessitated a complete musical overhaul – Trouble in Paradise is still packed with La Roux’s signature, tightly coiled synth-pop numbers, but the palette has been slightly extended to add some funk and reggae elements.

The opener Uptight Downtown is both a highlight and statement of intent. Its disco stomp – with its shimmying guitar riffs heavily recalling David Bowie’s Let’s Dance – and Jackson’s cold-eyed delivery herald that it’s business as usual.

In Kiss and not Tell the synths turn campy and the guitars squelch, and Jackson gets all coy as she croons that “all I want is to come right out of my shell / Makes me want to kiss and not tell”.

The first sign of development arrives in the tetchy Cruel Sexuality; it is found on the vocal front where Jackson is all soulful and delivers a rather lovely falsetto in the chorus – a welcome change from her normally detached, ice-cold delivery.

The temperature turns sunnier in Tropical Chancer; a slithering reggae-electro mash-up with the song title destined to seep into popular culture as a term to describe holidaying male opportunists.

That same focus is not found throughout the album, however. While the ominous Silent Partner is straight out of the gates with its marauding synth riffs, it was always a big ask to maintain that intensity – no matter how spurned Jackson sounds – through its seven-minute running time.

Let Me Down Gently is a pleasant ballad but slightly beige; a pity as it has an arresting vocal performance. It gets worse with the final track The Feeling: what was meant to be an uplifting ode to moving on sounds horribly dated, with Jackson’s ear for a hook decidedly absent.

Still, there is enough in the transitional Trouble in Paradise to suggest the worst is over for Jackson. She is fully in charge of the La Roux ship now and she demonstrates enough ideas to chart a steady course.

sasaeed@thenational.ae