It was over three years ago that the mainstream press were getting excited about the new prospects for 2009 who were female, electro and had a name beginning with an ‘L’! Caroline Sullivan’s now prophetic article in The Guardian ‘Slaves To Synth’ highlighted the rise of female fronted acts such as LITTLE BOOTS, LA ROUX, LADYHAWKE and LADY GAGA in Autumn 2008. As the synthesizer became the ideal instrument for the aspirational independent young woman, this was a delightful period when record companies turned their back on dreary male guitar bands!
But where are we now? Although LADY GAGA effectively released her third album in 2011 and cemented her position on the world stage, the other L-Word girls LITTLE BOOTS, LADYHAWKE and LA ROUX will only get round to issuing their long awaited follow-ups in 2012. The Electricity Club looks forward to what could be in store from these three eagerly anticipated albums.
LA ROUX aka Elly Jackson was the most internationally successful of the trio with a Grammy for Best Dance Album among the many accolades. Songs such as ‘Tigerlily‘, ‘As If By Magic‘ and ‘Cover My Eyes’ were all superb electronic numbers that had hints of THE KNIFE, BLANCMANGE and YAZOO. In The Guardian article from 2008, Elly said: “Girls look a bit stupid playing electric guitar and drums. It suits blokes better. But girls look wicked playing synths. When they play drums or whatever, it looks a bit butch. I hope that doesn’t sound anti-feminist!”
But with a hit album behind her, in 2010 she then announced synthpop was dead and declared: “I don’t want to make synth music for the rest of my life. There was a time when I was into that, but whatever, it’s done with, it’s gone!” With her voice and success dividing many a music lover, synth fan or otherwise, there has certainly been pressure on her as she records a follow-up. Elly cancelled a guest appearance with her mentors HEAVEN 17 at the BEF show in October with no reason given despite contributing to the BEF documentary on 6 Music.
Elly told NME in January that: “I’ve been writing with some friends from another band, but I won’t say who they are. [They’re] established, but not like Kings Of Leon-established or anything…”. Rumours abound that the band in question is WHITE LIES whose ‘Farewell To The Fairground’ was covered by LA ROUX on Radio 1’s Live Lounge in 2009.
New songs such as ‘Uptight Downtown’, ‘Kiss & Not Tell’ and ‘My Paradise Is Your Paradise Is You’ are possibly to be premiered at both stints of the Coachella Festival in April but what form this material will take still remains a mystery. A lot will depend on her ‘silent’ partner Ben Langmaid.
Hints are that like HEAVEN 17’s The Luxury Gap , there will be piano and string embellishments. However, he recently said on Twitter: “Elly’s just played an amazing guitar part for the new LA ROUX album! You’re gonna love it!” while the official LA ROUX Twitter showed a photo of Elly brandishing an electric six string while recording a track called ‘Tropical Chancer’… you have been warned!
LADYHAWKE aka Pip Brown found acclaim for her self titled debut released in Autumn 2009. Despite the KIM WILDE meets DEPECHE MODE pulse of ‘Magic’ and the FLEETWOOD MAC produced by GARY NUMAN snarl of ‘Professional Suicide’, much of the album followed along the lines of conventional FM rock ‘n’ roll, despite being hailed by many an electro blogger.
Tracks such as ‘My Delirium’, ‘Dusk Till Dawn’ and ‘Paris Is Burning’ were great pop songs regardless of genre thanks to collaborators such as Pascal Gabriel, Alex Gray, Roy Kerr, Anu Pillai, Joe Eliot and Greg Kurstin. So with long player number two and many of the same team on board, much is now expected of Pip.
However, she recently muttered about an interest in Britpop, collaboration with THE CHARLATANS’ Tim Burgess not withstanding, and has always been the artist most likely of the L-Word girls to be accepted by real music purists. So with her new album titled ‘Anxiety’ due in late March, a more traditional rock collection with high production values can be expected. Pip herself has said: “It’s still pop, it’s just a bit darker and a bit rockier. I guess I’m just playing a lot more guitar and having a lot more fun in the guitar-sense”.
The axe lines of ‘Sunday Drive’ propelled by staccato piano and solid rhythms seem to indicate that particular direction although it is laced with squiggly effects. First single ‘Black White & Blue’ drives along readily with distorted power chords and an ABBA-ish chorus while the psychedelic ‘Vaccine’ recalls THE BEATLES’ ‘Tomorrow Never Ends’ which is quite appropriate as the album artwork appears to ape ‘Revolver’. Following the pattern of the other tracks, ‘Blue Eyes’ adds some rootsy organ while ‘Girl Like Me’ is basically mild heavy metal! Certainly it seems, synths are much less in evidence!
LITTLE BOOTS aka Victoria Hesketh was crowned BBC Sound of 2009 and that seemed to have been the worst thing that could have happened her. There was a backlash and the push for big sales was on. Her promotion seemed intent on turning her into the next KYLIE MINOGUE when she was actually, first and foremost, a musician.
As it happened, her album ‘Hands’ was a highly promising debut with many excellent songs including the duet with THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s Philip Oakey entitled ‘Symmetry’, the Numan-esque pop of ‘Tune Into My Heart‘ and the haunting drama of ‘Ghost’.
There were critics who felt LITTLE BOOTS was pandering to the masses with her mini dresses and employment of the ubiquitous Greg Kurstin on the more poppier compositions but what people didn’t realise was that Victoria wore short skirts in her previous band, the indie-credible DEAD DISCO. Incidentally their final single ‘You’re Out’ was produced by…yes, you’ve guessed it, Greg Kurstin!!! Some observers also bemoaned that ‘Hands’ was ruined by the varied number of producers but many of them were the same personnel who featured on LADYHAWKE’s album which many of these same people were praising! Whatever, despite teaming up with GARY NUMAN for the 6 Music Back To The Phuture live sessions and finishing 2009 selling out London’s Shepherd Bush Empire, she cancelled her American tour and took an extended break.
In November, she returned with a new single ‘Shake’. Produced by James Ford of SIMIAN MOBILE DISCO (who worked on BETH DITTO’s solo electro EP), it had much more of a distinct club feel. Of the other new numbers, Crescendo is based around a steadier machine groove that features an uplifting chorus and a terrific singalong breakdown in the middle eight.
Victoria has said that the new material is “spookier, darker” and “a lot less like SAINT ETIENNE”. But with ‘Motorway’, there appears to be the making of a euphoric dance anthem with Italo house piano stabs thrown in for good measure. Another track possibly titled ‘Dreaming’ has this dancier direction too while ‘I Wish’ with DJ Michael Woods is full-on rave.
And following its debut as a solo piano number in 2009, it looks like ‘Echoes’ is being reworked by LADY GAGA producer RedOne into a super poptastic hands-in-the-air single. However, for a bit of variety, there is the rich ballad ‘Silhouettes’ while rumours abound of a Richard X collaboration. In all of these songs, what is still omnipresent is LITTLE BOOTS’ melodic craft. So if all else fails, Victoria probably has a prosperous future career along the lines of CATHY DENNIS or 4 NON BLONDES’ Linda Perry as a songwriter for hire.
Text by Chi Ming Lai
18th February 2012