- Mon, 2012-06-18 13:34
Lianne La Havas - Is Your Love Big Enough?
Released: 9th July 2012 via Warner Bros
Love and the lack thereof. It’s what the vast majority of pop songs are about. So much so that in less capable hands it becomes a series of meaningless clichés, and even skilful songwriters can find themselves coming across as trite. So when an artist comes along who can talk about that same old topic but make it sound new, honest and insightful they stand out from the crowd.
Lianne La Havas has proved to be one such artist. She made her first major splash with an appearance on Later with Jools Holland in October 2011 with a rendition of her playful track Age, capturing the attention of the press and public and landing a support slot with Bon Iver in the process. A couple of months later her four week residency at London’s The Social sold out within hours of being announced and her reputation has been growing steadily since: she has just been invited to join her childhood hero Erykah Badu on tour.
But what exactly is it that sets her apart from countless other young women singing about their romantic experiences? The obvious answer is her voice: rich, smoky, full of soul and armed with a beautifully controlled and emotionally-laden vibrato, she could sing your shopping list and make it sound good. But a couple of listens to her debut album Is Your Love Big Enough and it’s clear that there’s more to her appeal than a good set of pipes.
Throughout the eleven songs on Is Your Love Big Enough there is a very distinctive texture, a clearly defined sense of personality. La Havas’ choice of slightly unusual, jazz-influenced chords, the ever-present blunt, buzzy tone of her guitar, and the bluesy shape of all her vocal melodies combine to create a sound that is unique to her, and that unique sound - combined with a strong lyrical identity - allows the content to assume an extra level of authenticity. When she sings about a painful relationship or a new love she may be telling a story that’s been told a million times before, but the way she tells it is entirely her own, and as such the songs become real events in a real life, rather than the recycled tropes of the pop playbook.
Add to that some clever arrangements and deft production by Matt Hales (a.k.a. Aqualung) and you have an album that achieves variety as well as consistency. The intro to opening track Don’t Wake Me Up recalls Imogen Heap in its use of layered vocals, previous single Forget offers real bite with its stuttering rhythms and subtle synths, and Everything Everything manages to balance intimacy and expansiveness through the most minimal of accompaniments. But Hales and La Havas also know when to keep things simple: Gone features nothing but a single vocal and a piano part but has the power and impact of an orchestra in full voice.
Young female artists singing about their relationships face an uphill battle to distinguish themselves from the crowd, especially in the wake of Adele’s record-breaking ode to heartache, 21. Do we really need or want to hear another love-life dissected in public? When it sounds as good and is as genuinely felt as on Lianne La Havas’ debut album, the answer is emphatically ‘yes’.