Existing at the intersection of the two major retro-roots movements of the new millennium -- the beehived, swinging '60s soul of Amy Winehouse and the bluesy roar of the White Stripes -- Elle King's debut, Love Stuff, feels like a record that should've happened prior to 2015. Surprisingly, King is the only musician to mine this territory but she's not quite stuck in the past, whether that means the 20th century source or the canny revivals of Winehouse and Jack White. She knows enough to thread in some echoes of the big-footed folk stomp of Mumford & Sons (not to mention a banjo she proudly brandishes in all her publicity material), a sound that comes to a crest on "America's Sweetheart." There, King claims she's not America's Sweetheart and she spends a good chunk of Love Stuff putting on those aggressive airs, swanning about like a spunky spitfire, a mean girl who goes where the devil don't go. A little of this rough-and-tumble schtick goes a long way, as do King's occasionally overheated vocals -- she works hard to prove she's tough and her eager swagger proves exhausting over the long haul. That said, what works on Love Stuff has considerable charm. When King walks a fine line between rock crunch and soul testifying, there's some fire: the swinging fuzz of "Ex's & Oh's," the spooky slow-grind of "Under the Influence," the blues stumble of "Last Damn Night" and "Jackson," where she ties all these sounds together. Such highlights suggests that when Elle King doesn't have to try so hard to prove her bona fides, she might wind up with a record that's hard to deny. For now, she merely has a promising debut on her hands.
Love Stuff Review
by Stephen Thomas Erlewine