Lianne La Havas – Lianne La Havas
Soul | R&B
The end of last year saw the release of an eponymous third record from one of Britain’s foremost soul acts, which missed the mark and failed to leave a lasting impression the same way the second record did. This summer meanwhile saw a stripped back and contemplative release from an accomplished songwriter, adorned in a simple black and white cover. Now, at the centre of the Venn diagram, we find the new eponymous album from Lianne La Havas. Fittingly enough it is an album about which I find myself torn, stuck in a bizarre musical limbo somewhere between reverence and disappointment.
Given that it’s been a full five years since Blood, one of my favourite albums from the past decade, I certainly wasn’t expecting more of the same. However instead of a record that refines and expands on past successes and experiments with new sounds, we find an album that has stripped Lianne’s sound to the foundations and is in the process of building it back up again. The end result of this reinvention is her most consistent release to date, which is perhaps more of a flaw than a positive. It struggles to reach the highs of her previous records with most of the hooks falling flat, and some, like the gratingly repetitive refrains of ‘Green Papayas’ and ‘Seven Times’, even actively dragging the album down. With limited variation in tone and pacing the tracks often bleed together in a way that sadly makes it difficult to follow and be invested in the emotional arc that spans the whole record.
That’s not to say it isn’t well crafted. The production is spot on, walking the line between the raw earnest folk sensibilities and the lush layered R&B soundscape. While tracks may blend together you could take any song and appreciate it in isolation for Lianne’s sublime smoky vocals, the warm guitar tones and jazzy flourishes, and the interesting and intricate percussion. Even though the album does occasionally fade too often into the background, it has its share of standout moments that bring it rushing back to the centre of your attention.
‘Bittersweet’ has by far the album’s most engaging hook, and some of Lianne’s most commanding vocals to date – a track so good it appears twice to bookend the album. Album highlights ‘Paper Thin’ and ‘Sour Flower’ are the most stripped back and enrapturing offerings; the former a sparse folky affair exploring vulnerability in truly arresting fashion, the latter a stunning slow-burner that delivers passionate vocals and a coda of increasingly complex rhythms. At the album’s heart we also find Lianne’s spellbinding rendition of Radiohead’s ‘Weird Fishes’. Slowing it down, introducing robust bass and an acapella section at the mid point, before kicking into overdrive for the closing couple of minutes – all of this while maintaining the mystique of the original – must surely make it one of the all time great covers.
Lianne’s self titled is not a record that won me over on the first listen the way that Blood did. Even now, many listens down the line, I don’t love this record the way I hoped I would. The way I feel like I should. However, nor have I completely given up on it. The impression I’ve taken away is that Lianne’s latest is a grower that needs more than just repeated listens, it needs time. It’s the kind of album that you come back to a few years down the line and everything clicks. The kind of album that you need to be in the right mood for, only then do you get the full measure of it. It’s sadly not an album I’ll be rushing back to, but rest assured I’ll be revisiting in time in the hopes of seeing it in a new light.