La Roux | La Roux
Most Likely To: sound like the ‘80s to people who don’t remember the ‘80s very well.
The last decade has been a grim one for fans of over-the-top dance divas. People craving larger than life personas mixed with peppy dance beats have had to content themselves with the relatively tame “I love Jesus, check out my boobies!” shenanigans of Britney, Jessica, and Beyonce (dubbed the “Bible-thumpin’ hoochie mamas” by Vitamin C in her one useful contribution to pop culture). The closest any of them got to truly transcendent (and non-mental illness related) gonzo-ness was Britney dancing with that big-ass snake, which at the time seemed outrageous enough to be held partially responsible somehow for 9/11. Beyond that, though, they’ve been fairly mundane as these things go.
But now the prayers of the blighted souls awaiting deliverance at the hands of outrageous disco queens are finally being answered. They’ve gone gaga over Lady Gaga for the last year and a half, and now she’s joined by a limey counterpart in the person of La Roux, a young woman with diva attitude, outstanding vocal chops, and the silliest hair since Mike Score of A Flock of Seagulls. Like Lady Gaga, La Roux is unafraid to pursue catchy dance ecstasy while looking vaguely ridiculous. Plus, the fact that she’s a Brit gives her hipster cred that the born in the U.S.A. Gaga could never muster, much the same way The Arctic Monkeys are cool but Fall Out Boy suck even though they’re actually pretty much the same band.
Much of the buzz around La Roux centers on her debt to ‘80s synth-pop – from reading her press, one might assume that her debut album could be titled Speak and Spell, Vol. 2 or Even Further Upstairs at Eric’s. But La Roux isn’t the second coming of Alison Moyet, unless Moyet did some time in Ace of Base after Yazoo called it a day.
Sure, there are some nods in the instrumentation to Depeche Mode, Kraftwerk and the Human League, and the song “As If By Magic” sounds exactly like a particular song from the ‘80s but for the life of me I can’t remember which one right at the moment, but on the whole this is straight-up dance pop with the occasional synth-pop textures tossed in for atmosphere. That may be splitting ridiculously permed hairs, but damn it, people who grooved to Soft Cell sure as hell didn’t want to be accused of liking Stacey Q. One had to have standards, after all.
At any rate, La Roux’s debut album is pretty good stuff, even if it really doesn’t sound all that much like what everyone keeps insisting it sounds exactly like. The opening four tracks – “In For the Kill,” “Tigerlily,” “Quicksand,” and “Bulletproof” – are as good a line-up of consistently excellent electronic pop music as anyone has managed to put together since New Order’s Substance, and that was a greatest hits compilation. “Tigerlily” even manages to shoehorn a goofy spoken word interlude that tips its hat to Vincent Price on “Thriller.” “Colourless Colour” is a slower number powered by a Kraftwerk sound-alike synth riff, while “Cover My Eyes” feels like a distant cousin to Wham’s “Careless Whispers.”
La Roux is in the vanguard of artists injecting a much needed wacky visual sensibility back into dance music, and if all the “second coming of Yazoo” talk is a mostly overblown cover story to give the All Songs Considered crowd a way to like a latter-day Roxette while still clinging to their all-important credibility, that’s cool. Whatever one has to do to allow oneself to enjoy an album full of darned good pop music delivered by a mild kook with a sense of style is well worth the effort.