There’s one pub quiz question I always get right. Where was the first motorway opened in Britain? That’s the Preston by-pass in Lancashire, Northern England where it forms part of the M6. I get bonus points, right?
I thought about the M6 when I first listened to Little Boots’s, aka Victoria Hesketh, second album, Nocturnes. Because, like me, she grew up in Lancashire (it’s a good, strong Lancastrian name, Hesketh). And I wondered, did she think of that same stretch of road when she penned album opener "Motorway." An ode to a great escape, "Motorway" burns through you like tires on fast road. It’s a starburst of sounds, a road trip round the disco dancefloor, where Little Boots bathes the road to nowhere in sparkle and glitz. Forget long tailbacks and road closures, she sings of neon lights and flashing towns. And yet there’s an undercurrent of sadness: "All our friends left behind/they’re not even on our mind," she breathes. You just want to buckle up and launch off into the night with her. It’s a tremendous track to kick off one of the most glamourous albums to sashay out this year.
Glam’s the word here, considering everything about Nocturnes screams I’m a dance album! Even the name means "a musical composition that is inspired by, or evocative of, the night." Little Boots says it’s "an album indebted to the night," which invites all sorts of questions, don’t you think? With production from James Ford (Simian Mobile Disco) and Andy Butler (Hercules and the Love Affair), Nocturnes is built for those naughty twilight hours that flash and fade like disco ball reflections on a sticky dancefloor.
It’s disco for the now - sorry, Kylie Minogue, I think you’ve just been shafted. Flashback to ABBA flares on tracks like "Broken Record," with its retro builds and good time sentiments. And I like the dirty bass of "Shake," where Little Boots lifts 90s-esque synths from naff to the next level.
Little Boots knows how to write a hook. Like some musical puppet master, she seems able to control any of your limbs at whim: just one listen to glorious dance anthem "Every Night" will have you trying to shake an earworm - here, she’s crafted a club banger that swells from toe-tapper to foot-stomper. "Confusion," meanwhile, incites the kind of shuffles your dad would be proud to bust out at a wedding.
It’s so full on, in fact, that any dip from disco diva is a bit jarring - like on "Crescendo," which doesn't quite pack the pop punch of its album mates, or on the trundling "All For You," where Little Boots showcases her super-sweet vocals. Yet a different pace just feels right on "Strangers," which marries a dancefloor euphoria with the sort of intensity you’d find in a dark corner of a bar. And just right is the main vibe that you get from Nocturnes - just right, or just great. There’s nothing like the mental click that comes when you first hear a new song to obsess over, and I can guarantee you’ll feel that several times over with this record. Her voice is electric on the keyboard-heavy "Beat Beat": "I can hear your rhythm, I can’t ignore that sound" is an ever so apt summary of this disco-tastic tune that mashes together the grooviest of samples. Album closer "Satellites" carries you out on a glitter-encrusted high with thundering keyboards and hand-clapping beats. It’s enough to make you press play all over again.
With Nocturnes, one thing’s for certain. Little Boots doesn't need to pub quizzes to feel like a winner. [B]