La Roux's new album, "the best pop album we'll hear this year"


Digital Spy: ★★★★½

Waiting For Elly Jackson: it's become a running gag to rival anything Samuel Beckett could have conjured. For the past five years time has been tricking by and, just like the elusive Godot, it's not brought a new La Roux album with it. And at some point, in that half-decade of missed deadlines and delayed releases, the question's ceased being 'when' - it's become 'how' instead. How could this LP, fast approaching Chinese Democracy levels in terms of tardiness, justify the never-ending wait? How would La Roux, after coming on like the freshest mainstream pop act in yonks back in 2009, fit into the fabric of 2014? Pop's a fickle mistress, and if you're not leading the charge, you're straggling at the back of the pack instead.

And yet for all the trials and tribulations - including the split with musical partner Ben Langmaid - Trouble In Paradise is an utter triumph: an album of wall-to-wall bangers which makes a mockery of the idea that all those long chewed-over ideas would sound old-hat upon release. Case in point, opener 'Uptight Downtown' is inspired by the London riots that lit up Brixton back in 2011 - a topic which, by now, should sound cloyingly passé - and yet here it's electro-pop magic, with its shimmering, Chic-like guitars and taut backdrop.



Whereas La Roux was a tinny, hard-edged listen at times - compressed and condensed, synths fizzing into one another and Jackson's shrill pierce of a vocal - Trouble In Paradise is warm, immersive and made from a much broader sonic palette. 'Kiss And Not Tell', for example, is Blondie's NYC disco taken down a Brixton back alley, a tale of relationship strife with bubbling synths and cascading, tropical riffs. It's a winning sound, but there's no sense of sticking rigidly to formula here: 'Cruel Sexuality' is another treatise on the same squabbling of couples but is spikier and sparser, built on a chugging bass and spacey, sci-fi squiggles of sound and a washed-out guitar. Some lesser mortals cling steadfastly to one formula; La Roux has more great ideas in just one album - nay, in just one song - than nearly all of them.

'Tropical Chancer' is the most cheeky and charming of the lot, perhaps - and certainly the most immediately catchy - with its sun-kissed swagger and calypso-like bounce a near-perfect echo of the scallywag taken to task in the lyrics, but it's hardly the only gem. 'Sexotecqhue' is a sordid take on a man who can't stop going to seedy dens of inequity ("He wants to go where the red light shines so bright"), and yet there's no hand-wringing or condemnation or woe-is-me moping; as with most of the love-on-the-rocks tracks here, Jackson's got tongue firmly-in-cheek, using the story of a sleaze addict as fodder for a romping sing-along chorus.

And the sense of saucy fun means that when things do get more serious, it pricks all the more painfully: 'Let Me Down Gently' is gorgeous slow-burn heartbreak with woozy synths that blossoms two-and-a-half minutes in into dark disco a la Pet Shop Boys as Jackson sings: "Turn me into someone good/ That's what I really need," lost and alone with only the glare of the mirrorball for company.

Elsewhere, the seven-minute chug of 'Silent Partner' journeys on a filthy synth that's the grubby cousin of Donna Summer's 'I Feel Love', 'Paradise Is You' has enough moon-eyed holiday longing for the slushiest of beach novels and 'The Feeling' is perfect staccato pop. La Roux may have kept us all dangling on for five years for a second album, but sometimes the old clichés ring true: good things - very, very good things - do come to those who wait.

The Guardian: ★★★★

The real surprise is how unforced it all feels. When an album has suffered a tortuous gestation, and when it's been labored over as intensely as Trouble in Paradise has apparently been – "14 to 16 hours, six days a week, sometimes longer, for two years," Jackson recently told the Observer – you can usually tell just by listening to it. But if someone didn't inform you of Trouble in Paradise's backstory, you'd never guess. The only hint of hard work comes with the track listing's labored puns (Tropical Chancer can take its place alongside Kiss and Not Tell and Sexotheque, every one of them a song as fantastic as its title is rotten), while the only suggestion of discord is in the lyrics of the lengthy Silent Partner, which appear to address both Jackson's illness and Langmaid's departure, the latter in pretty withering terms. It sounds airy and confident and effortless, a state of affairs aided by the fact that, at some point in the last five years, Jackson and her various collaborators have hit on the knack of coming up with songs that somehow sound as if they've always existed, as if you've stumbled on a selection of old hits that you'd forgotten about but are delighted to be reminded of. Conjuring up that weird, false sense of instant familiarity is one of the most potent and difficult tricks in pop music. It's what lies behind the mammoth success of both Daft Punk's Get Lucky and Pharrell Williams's Happy, and it happens over and over again on Trouble in Paradise, most arrestingly on the opening trio of songs: the single Uptight Downtown, the Abbaesque Kiss and Not Tell and Cruel Sexuality, which it seems fairly safe to say, is the most sublimely euphoric exploration in recent pop history of the pressures placed by society on the individual who declines to define themselves as either straight or gay.

In truth, the songwriting quality never really dips. Almost sickeningly overburdened with fantastic tunes, Trouble in Paradise may well be not just a triumph against the odds, but the best pop album we'll hear this year. Listening to it, it's hard not to feel that whatever agonies went into its creation were worth it.

Rolling Stone: ★★★½

Elly Jackson is the best kind of cyberdiva – brassy, hooky, nearly invulnerable. On La Roux's second LP, her vintage synth-pop magnificence (see 2009's hit "Bulletproof") has warmed into the sort of electro-disco drama you imagine the Daft Punk robots blasting as they cruise down Highway 1. "Paradise Is You" is a Phil Spector-ish evocation of Sixties girl-group ache; "Sexotheque" rides wiry Nile Rodgers-style funk guitar. The track that most recalls Jackson's debut with exmember Ben Langmaid, "Silent Partner," is a harsh kiss-off. (Hmm.) But it's also a reminder of how brilliantly the pair reanimated synth-pop style. Trouble suggests Jackson's in for the long haul.

sources: 1, 2, 3