After two albums that established their bona fides as first-class updaters of girl groups and blue-eyed soul, Lucky Soul went in for a hard reset and re-emerged as a first-class disco group. While Lucky Soul took a break for life stuff, shuffled their lineup, and did some woodshedding, they weren't blind to the changes happening in the world around them. While the surfaces of the 2017 album Hard Lines may be sleek, there is some grit underneath. The group's songwriter, Andrew Laidlaw, spent the off years being inspired by events like riots and Brexit and feeling the pain of modern life, yet ultimately holding it together thanks to the power of love. These feelings come spilling out of the songs, both lyrically and in Ali Howard's vocals. In the past, her voice floated above the classic sounds like a hummingbird; this time she digs in a little deeper. The backing vocals also help ground her and new keyboardist Art Terry gives Howard the occasional burst of support that helps the vocal mix become one of the album's highlights. He plays the Zeke Manyika to her Edwyn Collins, and their interplay is a treat. The songs are a mix of smooth disco-pop, melancholy late-night grooves, Italo electro, and low-key funk, produced by Laidlaw with a skillful touch. He layers the instruments, beats, and vocals together like a chef whipping up a perfect soufflé of sound. Much of the record calls to mind Tony Visconti's work on Altered Images' cruelly underrated third album, Bite; it has the same dramatic feel and lush orchestration, the same kind of emotionally rich songs and breathtaking performances, as Howard really shows she's a star and each member of the band shines at one point or another. The band has pulled off the rare move of making a shiny, frothy pop album where the songs sound like they mean something, like there are stakes involved at every moment. The only downside to the album is that it lacks a killer single or two like their first two albums did; there's nothing to match "Lips Are Unhappy" or "White Russian Doll" here. The upside is that Hard Lines is much more consistently good than either of those previous albums; it delivers one sparkling disco-pop gem after another and is a much smoother and more unified listening experience. Lucky Soul may have changed their sound drastically, but their core remains strong and Laidlaw's guiding hand has steered them in a very positive direction.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra