Album Review: Lianne La Havas, ‘Lianne La Havas’

Eponymous records have been a favoured statement of self-identity for a plethora of artists gone-by. They can mark career intersections – 2014’s Beyoncé was the singer’s first visual album and first release without promotion. Or, for TV talent-show alumni, prompt the memory of supermarket shoppers just enough to take it from shelf to trolley.  And they can serve as mission statements – The xx’s 2009 debut detailed their eclectic blend of influences and defined their sound.

Lianne La Havas, the London singer/songwriter’s third album, sees her join this coterie. A break-up record at heart, it’s inspired by the lifecycle of plants, and follows a failed relationship through love at first sight, its demise, and independence thereafter. Her only self-produced record, Lianne La Havas feeds off little more than guitars and percussion, but it’s her vivid vocals and intricate storytelling that emerge its salient qualities. It’s no wonder she gave it her namesake.

Sophomore Blood was accused of harbouring little more than its standout singles, but Lianne La Havas reveals a wellspring of latent wonders. Most notable is ‘Read My Mind’, a breezy jaunt through the first moments of infatuation. La Havas skips nimbly between wordy lines like “Feels like I’ve got nothing to hide/ a serendipity/ I noticed you noticed me”. It’s addictive and seamless – the musical equivalent of the sand-segmenting or soap-scraping of an Oddly Satisfying Instagram video.

Lianne La Havas’ storytelling supersedes both her previous work and much of her contemporaries. A Bossa nova guitar leads into opening lines “You didn’t pay your rent/ so I guess you’ll be leaving” on ‘Seven Times’. Driven by persiflage, the often mousy La Havas is now seen embodying the chutzpah of Blu Cantrell or TLC. But La Havas uses her voice as much as her lyrics to paint her pictures. The modestly monumental  ‘Bittersweet’ is driven by its trudging rhythm section. However, it’s her varying inflections as she repeats “Bittersweet summer rain/ I’m born again” that hints first that her mojo is maintained, before ringing out her liberation as she belts it again.

Songwriter/producer Matt Hales (Aqualung) returns as La Havas’ primary collaborator, alongside guest production spots including Mura Masa on ‘Can’t Fight’. Here indie guitars lead into La Havas’ first realisations of her lover’s flaws, told through soaring melismas that further prove her vocal dexterity.

However, it’s ‘Weird Fishes’, a cover from Radiohead’s 2007 LP In Rainbows, that’s Lianne La Havas’ highlight. Despite not penning it herself, she’s performed the track live throughout her career, and it reportedly had a propulsive influence during the album’s primitive stages. Split in two parts – the first slashes the original’s bpm and dims its frenetic guitars in favour of woozy keys. This decelerates into layered vocal harmonies, before erupting to sound more akin to the original, providing the bedrock for La Havas’ heart-wrenching cries “hit the bottom/ the bottom and escaped”.

By three albums in, many artists would have reached their zenith. If this was La Havas’ it would more than suffice. However, her trajectory hitherto inspires optimism. The next move is anyone’s guess.

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