After a five-year absence, La Roux returns with ‘Trouble in Paradise’
“I’d rather never sell any records again and do what feels right than to not be true. There’s too much of that already,” La Roux’s Elly Jackson says.
Jackson is lounging poolside at her mid-city hotel the day after closing a teaser summer tour with a gig at the Greek Theatre supporting dance music greats New Order. The shows were a preview for her highly anticipated comeback album, “Trouble in Paradise.”
The album, released on Tuesday, is her first in five years.
La Roux’s synth-heavy eponymous 2009 debut — which spawned hits “Bulletproof” and “In for the Kill” and won a Grammy for electronic/dance album — turned the British singer with a fire-hued, Woody Woodpecker-esque quiff and androgynous flair into a pop star.
“I felt like who I was on the first record was very much a thing of its own,” Jackson said, pushing her hair away from her sunglasses (it’s still bright red, but now styled into a more relaxed swoosh). “It felt like part of a zeitgeist. You can’t keep feeding off that.
“Apart from a small number of hardcore fans, most people are like, ‘You’re that “Bulletproof” girl or the girl with the quiff.’ And that’s not a career,” Jackson, 26, continued. “It was nice, I’m not complaining. I’m very happy with the success of the first album … but I wanted more in a way, and that involved wanting less.”
Then, La Roux vanished, something new acts usually don’t chance.
There were collaborations with Kanye West and Jay Z as well as an exuberant appearance at Coachella last year. But her absence was rife with setbacks that stalled her sophomore effort, including a two-year bout with performance anxiety that she said left her unable to sing her distinctive falsetto.
“It was one of those things where something in your head manifested itself as a physical problem,” said Jackson, who worked with a confidence therapist. “It was just pressure and youth and inexperience. It was unbelievably frustrating.”
Sessions for “Trouble in Paradise” began with a split between Jackson and producer-composer Ben Langmaid, the mostly invisible other half of La Roux. According to Jackson, the duo had issues for “a good year” before they went their separate ways in early 2012.
“It hasn’t been made out this way, but it was mutual,” Jackson said, referring to recent interviews from Langmaid. “I was just possibly the one who realized we were wasting our time … and it’s never easy to be the one who realizes first.”
Although Langmaid is credited on half of the new album, the songs were rearranged by Jackson and Ian Sherwin, who engineered most of La Roux’s debut and assumed Langmaid’s duties on the record.
“I just don’t want to bring that negative energy around the record … all it does is detract from what Ian and I have done together, and it’s not fair,” she said. “Everybody keeps on asking about Ben, it’s quite insulting to the work that’s done. I don’t know how big someone’s involvement has been if I haven’t seen him in two years.”
More grating for her than discussing the split is the misconception that she was just the face of La Roux when she is La Roux. Jackson believes that having a male counterpart played a role in people making that assumption. .
“I played every single part on the first record, and I said that numerous times in interviews, and people still wrote he’s the keyboard player because he’s a … bloke,” she said. “I’ve been frustrated over this for years and it’s part of what … led to our split.
“The things that are intrinsically recognized as La Roux don’t come from anybody else. And it’s very difficult for me to say that without sounding like an [expletive] but I can’t lie,” she continued.
Despite its dark beginnings, “Trouble in Paradise” is a sexy, groove-heavy set that doesn’t lose its sparkle. Unlike its predecessor, the album bubbles with the instant familiarity of early ‘80s Brit-pop flourishes without feeling like a homage.
“This album is far more about musical parts than anything else for me. The sound of it is interesting and intriguing and it grows and develops and builds and takes you on a journey,” she said. “It’s not like, here’s a hit and rubbing it in your face. It’s very experimental.”
Lead single “Uptight Downtown” boasts the same euphoric, club-ready trip that made much of her debut irresistible. Even the brooding breakup ballad “Let Me Down Gently” drops into a thunderous, drum-heavy foot-stomper. There’s even a throbbing, seven-minute kiss-off that could be directed at the anxiety that crippled her voice between albums — or, depending on interpretation, her former collaborator.
“I’m crying out for silence / you’re not my partner, no you’re not a part of me,” she sings.
Whether the album spawns another hit as massive as “Bulletproof” doesn’t concern Jackson.
“I don’t know and I don’t really care,” she said flatly. “There’s no point in doing something that’s already being done. I can only do what I like, even if it means I never get on the radio again.”
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