I love La Roux. I do. I don’t care what kind of reaction that elicits – probably “Why?! She only did one alright song and even that was pretty shit” – I think she’s soulful, sexy, a little bit strange, and most definitely, at this moment in pop music, unique.
If you lost track of her after ‘In for the Kill’ in 2009 (which probably back-dropped your 15 year old self’s first illicit Strongbow) that’s because Elly Jackson’s writing partner and bandmate Ben Langmaid quit La Roux, Jackson lost her voice in the whirlwind of an existential crisis, and she took a decisive step away from making music. Two years later, her voice tentatively recovered, she started writing again and her second album Trouble in Paradise, released back in July, is the product of five years’ self-discovery and questions still unanswered; about herself, her sexuality, empathy and everything that entails being human, feeling and navigating life in this thoroughly confusing modern age.
Gone are the cold, sparse synths of 2008’s La Roux and Jackson’s girlhood – what she and her newly resplendent band (sans Langmaid) have now is an unashamed groove. Her new songs are funky, tropical melting pots of luscious, bring-me-up, bring-me-down bass-lines, Nile Rodgers-esque guitar riffs and provocative lyrics; to go with them, a new hairstyle, and a new stage persona. She’s not always happy, and things definitely aren’t perfect, but she can’t help being honest; sometimes her lyrics are painfully so. Just listen to ‘Let Me Down Gently,’ and you’ll see what I mean.
I’d seen La Roux live once before, in 2009 – it was a blur of gold glitter paint (nu-rave!!), WKD and blokes in black skinny jeans who made up the support acts – in the peak of that ‘80s revival thing, and she was completely in her element. So cut to 2014: not a whiff of the ‘80s to be seen or heard anywhere, some even a little sceptical of her earlier stuff, and I wondered if La Roux could still hold a crowd the way she used to.
I needn’t have worried. From the moment the lights dimmed and Jackson stepped out onstage to joyous cheers, it was like we’d re-wound five years. Only, she was sleeker and more composed, her quiffed hair now the colour of a soft Caribbean sunset and a tailored black and white ensemble worthy of the Thin White Duke himself. The crowd’s approval of her new look – someone yelling “YOU’RE FIT, ELLY!!” – made her laugh, but it was obvious what she was really here to do when she opened with the slow-burning ‘Let Me Down Gently:’ establish an intimacy, assure us in her confidence of her new performance style, but making it clear she’s worked damn hard to get back here: “Thanks for sticking around. I hope you like our new stuff.”
The Trouble in Paradise numbers were just fantastic: chug-chugging bass carrying chimey guitars, and Jackson crooning “Oh you make me happy in my everyday life/Why must you keep me in your prison at night?” from ‘Cruel Sexuality’ is even better live than on record. A kick of the bass drum, a flash of that bashful smile, and we were into the deliciously catchy ‘Sexotheque:’ and how brilliant, everyone suddenly started shoulder-dancing in unison. It was like an advert gone right. Jackson’s still got the falsetto, and some stellar new moves now, as well. By the time she brought out the old classics – ‘Quicksand’ being my particular favourite, but how could you forget ‘Bulletproof’? – the audience relax in their familiarity, and it felt like coming home.
Only two songs from Trouble in Paradise were left off the set-list, the two nearest to being ballads, and it would have been nice to have them in there. But that’s a little gripe of an otherwise triumphant show. The end comes, and a beaming Elly gives a last wave and slips off stage; I sure as hell am happy she’s back. She’s given me a great memory and a great record to get through the winter with.