What Goes Up Has To Go Down…
LITTLE BOOTS won the BBC Sound Of 2009, was dubbed the next big thing and even the future of music! Equipped with her Yamaha Tenorion, MicroKorg and Poly6, the Blackpool songstress Victoria Hesketh certainly made the right noises with her Moroder-esque calling card ‘Stuck On Repeat’ produced by HOT CHIP’s Joe Goddard, the thumping GARY NUMAN meets TIMBERLAND stutter of ‘Meddle’ and her subsequent collaborations with both Mr. Numan himself and THE HUMAN LEAGUE’s Phil Oakey. Her time in DEAD DISCO had also proved she was certainly capable of something that was still pop but a bit edgier.
However, within these synthesized aspirations was pressure from her label 679/Atlantic to turn her into the next KYLIE MINOGUE… productions by Greg Kurstin, Biff Stannard and the ubiquitous RedOne were evidence of that. Despite great songs on her debut ‘Hands’ such as ‘Earthquake’, ‘Symmetry’, ‘Ghost’, ‘Tune Into My Heart’, ‘Mathematics’ and ‘Remedy’, there was a major watering down of her synth girl concept and things were not helped when LA ROUX came along and stole her thunder with No1s and Grammy Awards. There was room for a new female synthpop star but the public decided it was to be Elly Jackson. No matter the marmite nature of Jackson’s falsetto from the ghetto, LA ROUX’s eponymous debut was conceived as an album and mixed by producer/collaborator Ben Langmaid with laptops in mind to suit the modern listening habits of a young audience.
‘Hands’ tried to cover too many bases despite Victoria Hesketh’s obvious talent and ruined by a label who were confused as to how best to market her. ‘New In Town’ in particular was a poor choice for the launch single when there were so many good songs available. Fast forward to 2013 and lessons have been learnt on both sides. 679/Atlantic allowed LITTLE BOOTS’ label mate MARINA & THE DIAMONDS to have more artistic control and the end result was a distinct identity for 2010 debut album ‘The Family Jewels’ while her pop concept follow-up ‘Electra Heart’ reached No1 in the UK. Meanwhile, Hesketh has parted ways with 679/Atlantic and certainly their failing to exploit the potential of LITTLE BOOTS will forever stand as a missed opportunity. Now solely independent via her On Repeat imprint, it is within this context that Miss Hesketh finally releases her second album ‘Nocturnes’.
Four years is a long time in music and during that time, acts such as CHVRCHES have moved the goalposts as far as traditional synthpop is concerned while EDM has cracked America. The lure of clubland and nightlife (hence the album’s title) appears to be where Miss Hesketh’s head is at right now. She said to This Is Fake DIY about her new material: “It’s less 80s synth pop influenced, it’s quite an upbeat album, which I think has stemmed from the fact I have been DJing a lot, and listening to a lot of dance music”. However, the previews have not been promising. Comeback single ‘Shake’ released in late 2011 was an enjoyable if rather pedestrian house excursion while ‘Every Time I Say A Payer’ lacked memorable hooks. Another taster ‘Headphones’ did not improve the situation and has now been left off the new album altogether.
So what is ‘Nocturnes’ like and will it win back the audience lost in the post-BBC Sound Of 2009 backlash that ensued? While album opener ‘Motorway’ attaches some dreamy soundscapes that recall dance anthem ‘Let Me Be Your Fantasy’, it is missing that killer topline. If you are going to make dance records, you’ve got to stun the brain and hit the feet… but this doesn’t do that. In fact, it is a bit of a nocturnal wash. Now, if LITTLE BOOTS was being accused of being too much like Pop Kylie on ‘Hands’, then ‘Confusion’ is more Deconstruction-era Dance Kylie. Like with ‘Shake’ and ‘Motorway’, it’s all pleasant enough but lacks impact. ‘Broken Record’ is better and starts with neo-SASH! bassline pulsing while the bridge is quite wonderful; however it feels incomplete. Meanwhile, ‘Beat Beat’ gets the full funky mirrorball treatment and does Disco Kylie. There’s nothing wrong with imitating the Aussie pixie but none of these tracks are ‘Spinning Around’ or ‘Can’t Get You Out Of My Head’.
Continuing on, ‘Crescendo’ is much more mid-tempo and shows hints of the inventiveness that Miss Hesketh is capable of with some great percolating and spacey electronic sounds. It highlights what is actually missing from ‘Nocturnes’; that avant textural weirdness that made ‘Stuck On Repeat’, ‘Meddle’ and ‘Symmetry’ so special. There’s also too much of that dated Italo House piano stabbing. As the album progresses, ‘Strangers’ is almost barely noticeable while ‘All For You’, although a move away from the out-and-out dance template of ‘Nocturnes’, is quite forgettable.
But the saving grace comes last with the glorious ‘Satellites’. With tightly sequenced bass, crashing effects, siren-like synths and a catchy chorus, it is bleepingly euphoric and miles ahead of anything else on the album. And with lyrics such as “What goes up has to go down… I’m falling down to earth”, it could be seen as autobiographical. ‘Satellites’ is great, so why isn’t the rest of ‘Nocturnes’? There are flashes of brilliance but this is not a patch on ‘Hands’ or even what exists of CHVRCHES’ small but impressive catalogue. While the future may not see LITTLE BOOTS being able to carry the momentum of being a popstar in her own right, a possible career as a songwriter for hire in the vein of Cathy Dennis, Alison Clarkson or Linda Perry beckons it would seem.
ALTERED IMAGES’ Clare Grogan remarked to Word Magazine back in 2006 about the reaction to their second LP ‘Pinky Blue’: “…the people who loved you weren’t just disappointed in your next album, they were heartbroken”. It feels like that with ‘Nocturnes’ and it’s a shame because there is so much about LITTLE BOOTS that could have been 🙁
‘Nocturnes’ is released on 6th May 2013 via On Repeat Records
LITTLE BOOTS plays the following UK live dates: London Rough Trade East (10th May), Manchester Gorilla (14th May), London Bethnal Green Working Men’s Club (15th May)
Text by Chi Ming Lai
2nd May 2013, updated with ‘Satellite’ promo video 9th November 2013