opinion byAUSTIN REED
Maybe it’s the fact that I turned 30 last Wednesday. Maybe the looming threat of an AARP membership frightens me so much that my propensity for being nonplussed by contradictory messages within certain records is at a permanently heightened level. Maybe I need to stop drinking Four Loco and listening to the Neon Icon at the same time.
Or maybe—just maybe—I’m not the only one. Maybe I’m not the only one who has a hard time understanding the need for radical thematic dichotomy in music. Maybe shutting up and dancing to a club-ready track that outlines infidelity just isn’t something people should do. And maybe there’s someone else out there who finds irony in twerking with (on?) a stranger to a track about being unfaithful to a spouse.
I don’t know. I don’t have the answers. And that’s where La Roux’s sophomore LP Trouble In Paradise has left me: Conflicted.
But conflicted in the best possible way. From top to bottom, Trouble is a banger, which is surprising for a number of reasons, not the least compelling of which being that this is the first we’ve heard from Elly Jackson since her 2009 debut full-length. Lest we’ve forgotten: La Roux’s self-titled album was one of the catchiest, most universal and ultimately most remix-friendly records in recent memory. “Bulletproof,” “In for the Kill” and “Quicksand,” all laid waste to the Top 40 at one time or another, so developing a follow-up capable of garnering similar success not only seems daunting; it seems illogical.
Yet, Trouble In Paradise somehow wins in a way that deems the comparison to its predecessor a moot point. Rather than drafting in its momentum, Trouble sets off on a new path entirely because there’s no other path to take. Jackson has grown up since her debut, and on Trouble, it shows. Album opener “Uptight Downtown,” injects Jackson’s signature double-track vocals and a healthy dose of nu-disco swagger into a discordant (albeit sort-of unclear) story of an inner-city street fight. “Sexotheque,” on the other hand, outlines the same infidelity that gave me a migraine a few paragraphs above this one.
The struggle gets realer. “Tropical Chancer,” pairs a brutally prominent bass line with trace elements of calypso, faultlessly showcasing La Roux’s versatility in ways that “Reflections Are Protection,” only struggled to on their debut. Meanwhile, “Let Me Down Gently,” Trouble’s strongest track, finds Jackson bottoming out into her gritty, goosebumpy lower register. A slow, deliberate saunter crudely morphs into a beat-driven, saxophone-charged jazz jam that somehow manages to perpetuate the theme throughout. “Let me in for a minute / You’re not my life, but I want you in it,” Jackson implores with a fierce amount of pluck, and there you have it. Trouble In Paradise incites conflict because Elly Jackson is a little bit conflicted.
This was arguably the most crucial admission she had to make over her past five years. Her success and the recognition that came with it weighed an emotional ton, and shedding that weight required accepting that even though it will always exist on behalf of her product, criticism will never define her product. Is Trouble In Paradise a groundbreaking work of unparalleled foresight and talent? No. But is it a spectacular assessment of La Roux’s painfully progressive growth over the past half-decade? Maybe. B