Losing a singing competition isn't always a bad thing. Aiken, Lambert, Daughtry, Hudson, Murs. And now, East. After losing series 11 of the U.K. X Factor competition to Ben Haenow, Fleur East rode the wave of popularity that swelled in the wake of her expert cover of Bruno Mars and Mark Ronson's "Uptown Funk." First single "Sax" was exuberant and catchy enough to climb the U.K. charts, despite the fact that there was nary a saxophone to be heard on the uptempo banger. Her debut album, Love, Sax & Flashbacks (Syco), puts it all up front: these songs are indeed about love, containing lots of funky horns, and a good deal of influences from the past that she wears openly on her sleeves. The strong '80s throwback vibe is everywhere, with touches of the Pointer Sisters, Chaka Khan, Michael Jackson, and the Gap Band, with a healthy dash of disco and funk in the veins of Chic and James Brown. However, this debut is by no means derivative and lazy. Like fellow British contemporaries Estelle and V.V. Brown, East can truly sing (and rap!), and delivers sweetness and confident sass with the pep of a more seasoned diva. Tastes of such icons are also quite apparent, with nods to Whitney Houston ("More and More"), Tina Turner ("Love Me or Leave Me Alone") and Beyoncé ("Baby Don't Dance"). The updated production aligns with Ronson-style funky, horn-centric boogie jams, resulting in an album that is stacked from start to finish. A pair of expertly executed samples create both the highlight and centerpoint to the LP: "Paris" borrows from Teena Marie's "Ooo La La La" (last heard on the Fugees' "Fu-Gee-La") on a funky one-night-stand tempter, while a sample of the Jackson 5's "Dancing Machine" drives Fleur's "Kitchen" into the funk stratosphere along her cheeky demand to "Tina Turn-up/Tina Turn-it-up." The callbacks and influences permeate everything, really, as East spins it all into her own sound. For a runner-up and her first outing, this is top-spot quality pop.
Love, Sax & Flashbacks Review
by Neil Z. Yeung