Third time’s the charm
By Matthew Fraser, Opinions Editor
The powerful yet emotional energy of her voice pushes the imagery of falling suns and forgotten hangouts to vivid heights.
In her eponymous third album, Lianne La Havas chronicles a breakup and her subsequent rebirth. The opening song “Bittersweet” introduces the rolling bass and tight drumlines that will codify and drive the rest of the album while La Havas’ sultry voice captivates and enchants. Lamenting the end of a relationship gone cold, the powerful yet emotional energy of her voice pushes the imagery of falling suns and forgotten hangouts to vivid heights.
Following closely behind, the dreamy “Read My Mind” captivates the listener with the laidback bounce of new love and summer breezes. Tip toeing between catchy ear-worm pop and a more mature contemporary adult sound, “Read My Mind” seems equally at home in a beach playlist or a top ten list. With a bassline that recalls UK funk legend Jamiroquai without stepping all the way into such energetic territory, La Havas’ self-assured sound promises rewards for the repeat listener.
A repeated guitar melody welcomes in the third song dedicated to the pursuit of a real love. The essence of “Green Papaya” seems to be an everlasting home and belonging; despite the vocal skill of La Havas and the strength of the band, the lyrics come across as cliché and uninspired. However, this is a forgivable flaw in an overall good song. The purity of her voice emanating from centerstage coupled with the subtle addition of background singers helps smooth over some of the weaker aspects of the lyrics.
“Can’t Fight” however, is a standout song that pairs the driving groove of the bassline with the vocal delicacy and intrigue La Havas has mastered. Here, any criticisms about the strength of lyrics are easily forgotten in the engaging power of the song. The rhythm section carries the various singers and guitar cuts to the closing violins, and offers a satisfying end.
“Paper Thin” is an intimate treat where La Havas shows her near perfect ability to convey emotions through the raw but inoffensive qualities of her voice. When the chorus comes imploring for an entry into a closed heart, the subtle shift made by the band perfectly suits the mood change of the lyrics. The later bridge tells just how foolish it is to fear in the game of love before the chorus carries the song out.
The wordless interlude “Out of Your Mind” may call to mind early Alicia Keys or Erykah Badu in its smooth and almost ethereal nature. Covering Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes” might seem like an odd choice for the crooner, but with the capable help of her band, the song is transformed into an uplifting yet rebellious joy. Though the intro is largely instrumental, when La Havas voice leaps into the song, all attention is demanded by it. The rise in intensity starts slowly with the addition of background singers, but the moment when the energy changes is magnetic.
“Please Don’t Make Me Cry” continues the feel-good pop of the preceding songs with added layers of voices and pianos. The eponymous album does well to keep the light squarely focused on La Havas’ voice as she guides the song along its just-so but not quite mournful journey. Though the soundstage is often filled with competing elements and voices, La Havas’ vocals reigns supreme.
“Seven Times”may be the runaway best song on the album. Though no song dips particularly low, every element introduced earlier clicks here. From the cowbell and guitar introduction to the beating kickdrum heart, this song provides the unrelenting journey that La Havas’ writing eluded to earlier. The clear frustration with a layabout ex leads into the pained chorus of tears and prayers.
After the smooth power of “Seven Times,” “Courage” is a beautiful and deceptively sparse dreamscape where two guitars accompany La Havas along a haunting and enigmatic journey. With only a few subtle additions to the simple sound, “Courage” comes and goes with a siren self-assurance befitting the skill of the songstress.
Though in no way is “Sour Flower” a bad song, it doesn’t quiet match the heights of the two preceding it. Returning once again to the theme of relationships gone wrong and ended, “Sour Flower” brings a more upbeat and spirited energy that gestures to new beginnings. With this, the rhythm and melody of the song provide a satisfactory end to a solidly enjoyable album.