2009: the year of Lady Gaga, Pixie Lott, Little Boots, I Gotta Feeling… and La Roux. Just when you thought she had become an obscure footnote to that synth-heavy year, Elly Jackson returns just in time to get her foot in the door to musical relevance. It’s been five years since La Roux’s self-titled debut was released, taking Britain by storm, and if you cast your mind back to the tail-end of the last decade, it’s not difficult to see why the duo’s first effort proved so successful – that kind of jagged synth-pop laden with high-pitched vocals was all the rage as the noughties ran its course. Powered by two monstrous singles in the shape of ‘In for the Kill’ and ‘Bulletproof”, vocalist Elly Jackson and band co-founder Ben Langmaid won fans and plaudits on both sides of the Atlantic with their chart-baiting but credible sound. The only way was up for La Roux. But then, they promptly disappeared off the face of the earth for the next half-decade.
Since then, Langmaid has departed, and La Roux has become Elly Jackson’s solo project – not that you would have noticed, considering Langmaid never featured in any promotional videos or artwork. And you have to wonder if they’ve missed their chance for mainstream success. Will she go to the same way as fellow late-2000s act the Ting Tings, for example, whose long-awaited second album bombed commercially? Luckily for Jackson, and for her fans, Trouble in Paradise is a pretty decent collection of songs which should see her sustain at least a measure of her early success.
The music industry has changed considerably since 2009, and so has La Roux. Gone is her icy, hard-edged tone of yore. We’re living in a post-Random Access Memories landscape, where the upbeat and joyous warmth of the 1980s is fetishised by several artists, and Nile Rodgers is suddenly the most sought-after collaborator in music again. In keeping with current trends, Trouble in Paradise screams summer, sun and loving. Just look at that retro album sleeve. “New age fun with a vintage feel”, indeed. There’s no holding back with the continuous lyrical themes – ‘Sexotheque’ and
‘Cruel Sexuality’ are, surprise surprise, laced with overtones of sexual angst and uncertainty.
But if the lyrics aren’t up to much, it’s the music underneath that shines. Much has been made of the influence of David Bowie on La Roux’s work, and the outstanding lead single ‘Uptight Downtown’ could even be a distant cousin to Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’ – just listen to the bass and jangling guitar-line.
Similarly, ‘Tropical Chancer’ and ‘Kiss and Not Tell’ have catchy hooks. Ian Sherwin’s finely-crafted production shows through on longer tracks ‘Silent Partner’ and ‘Let Me Down Gently’.
It all means that Jackson’s second album has a much more authentic feel than her debut, and it is probably a superior collection of songs on the whole. Casual listeners may have trouble enjoying the whole album in one sitting given Jackson’s shrill and at-times jarring vocals – it is no secret that La Roux’s style has been divisive in the past, and that looks set to continue here.
Trouble in Paradise is by no means a perfect album – nothing else here quite matches up to opening track ‘Uptight Downtown’, and many of the songs here are too long to be radio-friendly. Fairly repetitive in style and tone is perhaps not an unjust assessment. But in a year in which the best songs have often lacked a sense of identity and uniqueness, La Roux’s long-delayed second LP heralds a welcome return of sorts for Elly Jackson.