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10 years on: revisiting La Roux's debut


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La Roux is an artist unfairly dismissed as a one-hit wonder. Strictly speaking a duo but named after Elly Jackson’s signature ginger quiff (French for “red-haired one”), the pair released Trouble in Paradise, the underrated follow-up to the now ten years old self-titled debut, in 2014.

Album cover 'La Roux' (2009)

The album seemed to capture something of the zeitgeist with the lead singles ‘In For The Kill’ and ‘Bulletproof’ reaching number one and two in the UK charts respectively and winning a Grammy for Best Electronic/Dance Album. Perhaps it was merely that Jackson’s high-pitched vocal style was able to cut through on treble-heavy workmen’s radios or made for an ideal ringtone earworm.

Yet it must have been more than that which caught the public imagination. La Roux does not belong snugly in any 2000s trend. We could associate it with such acts as Little Boots or Ladyhawke, but even then, it’s a bit of an oddball. The album takes its characteristic chirps and blips from 80s groups like The Human League, Depeche Mode and even Kraftwerk. But beyond the synthetic soundscape is the character at the centre of it all. For goodness sake, who writes lyrics these days comparing love to putting the washing out to dry? “I hang my hopes out on the line/ Will they be ready for you in time/ If you leave them out too long/ They'll be withered by the sun”. Inspired stuff.

Since the stratospheric take off in 2009, it is fair to say La Roux has been somewhat out of the limelight. While Trouble in Paradise was praised by critics and showcases a much more mature, nuanced artist than the previous decade’s, the single ‘Uptight Downtown’ only reached number 63 in the charts. Last year she featured on the psych-pop band Whyte Horses’ album Empty Words on the song ‘The Best of It’, whose 60s Latin flavour is a far cry from her synth-led origins.

La Roux’s debut does, for the most part, follow an unwavering template of romantic, uptempo synth-pop that only calms down once we’re over the halfway mark on ‘Cover My Eyes’. It is a rather front-heavy record, with the singles packed into the first 20 minutes, the most impressive of which is the chart-topping ‘Bulletproof’. This track still sounds great ten years on, with Jackson exhibiting all the quirks we admire her for; her cutting annunciation articulating charmingly direct lyrics over an utterly infectious beat broken only by that infamous vocoder interlude.

That said, some creative decisions seem questionable. The lyrics on ‘Colourless Colour’ are a little bit special with the chorus’s opening lines, “Early 90s décor/It was the day for”. So too is the spoken word interlude on the second track, ‘Tigerlily’, which could conceivably be a tribute to another Jackson’s ‘Thriller’ intro, pre-empting what Anthony Fantano has since labelled ‘post audiobook’.

Jackson herself is ambivalent about the album, branding it “tinny” and “anaemic, and claims never to have listened to the thing in full after its release; Ben Langmaid, largely responsible for the debut’s electronica aesthetic, left the duo after disagreements with the sound engineer while recording Trouble in Paradise. Propelled into instant fame, Jackson became embroiled in controversy for her outspoken views. She then lost her voice, suffered from acute anxiety and took five years to release any new material, by which time the hype train had truly been and gone.

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