La Roux

Trouble in Paradise

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Naming her long-awaited second album Trouble in Paradise might have been tempting fate if La Roux's Elly Jackson hadn't endured plenty of hardships between 2009's self-titled debut and its follow-up. Writer's block, the departure of collaborator Ben Langmaid, panic attacks that left Jackson unable to sing, and extensive recording sessions all delayed her return to the point that "where are they now?" stories seemed more likely than a second album. However, the lasting impact of La Roux's whip-smart synth pop -- which became a template for countless other '80s-worshiping acts during Jackson's absence -- proved her music could still be relevant five years later. She wastes no time reminding listeners of her charms with Trouble in Paradise's opening tracks: "Uptight Downtown" (which borrows starkly echoing guitars from David Bowie's "Let's Dance") and "Kiss and Not Tell" offer more of "Quicksand" and "Bulletproof"'s cleverly bouncy pop, minus some bite. Elsewhere, Jackson downplays the stiff electronics that made such an intriguing contrast with her emotive singing and lyrics on La Roux. She trades them for a warmer, disco and reggae-inspired sound that shines on "Tropical Chancer"'s electro-calypso hybrid (which also evokes Bananarama's similarly sunburnt and heartbroken "Cruel Summer") but often just isn't as distinctive as before; that a song called "Sexotheque" is merely pleasant is a dubious achievement. Jackson also uses this softer sound to explore more vulnerable songwriting territory: much of Trouble in Paradise teeters between independence and codependence, whether it's "Cruel Sexuality"'s stifled desire or the boundary setting of "Let Me Down Gently." Jackson's feisty side doesn't resurface until "Silent Partner," where the relentless bassline and expansive length seem to nod to the success La Roux's singles had as dance remixes. At other times, the album's rangy tracks just seem padded, particularly on the lulling ballad "Paradise Is You." While La Roux was so full of hits and should-be hits that almost anything that followed would pale by comparison, Trouble in Paradise might have fared better as an EP of the best songs here. However, the album's standouts also prove Jackson is still better than many of her contemporaries when it comes to making fizzy electro-pop. This may not be a thrilling return, but it's still a welcome one.

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