O2 Academy, Oxford
15th November 2014
Around the time the seminal 2009 BBC documentary Synth Britannia was first shown, OMD’s Andy McCluskey memorably spat, “People ask why I don’t like La Roux and I say it just sounds like a woman warbling, badly, over an old Depeche Mode record.” And lo, in the early 80s synth revival in the late 2000s, as someone who profoundly reveres Depeche Mode, I was predisposed to think La Roux was a bit, well, naff. Chiptune might be more widespread now thanks to the popularity of videogame soundtracks and retrogaming, but to me then, La Roux’s first, eponymous, album was derivative, too trebley, too plinky – and Elly Jackson’s falsetto was just gimmicky.
Five years later, having shed her bandmate Ben Langmaid half way (though he has co written a lot – the best – of the second album, Trouble in Paradise), Elly is in Oxford with a full band. This band give a new depth and emotional dimension to the old stuff – especially in the wonderful harpischordy chord progressions of Tigerlily; I’m Not Your Toy becomes less music-box and more cry-for-help.
The 80s vibe is still evident (Silent Partner would have fitted snugly into the Flashdance soundtrack), and the new stuff is infused (spiritually if not visually) with a more relaxed, Miami Vice-era, seedy – though observant (Sexotheque), not decadent – sensibility. There’s less falsetto; less putting on a persona.
To me it’s clear that Elly’s more content with this Roxy Music-esque fuller sound; it feels like she’s discovered that a SID chip might not be the most satisfactory way to express herself. To borrow and clumsily twist a line from Colourless Colour, 2009 La Roux was like a new build with eighties décor: in vogue but transient. Now she’s more comfortable as a suburban semi with Chic retro influences; less divisive, more content – less distinctive, but ultimately triumphant.