La Roux | La Roux

Polydor (2009)
By DANIEL BROCKMAN  |  July 22, 2009
3.5 3.5 Stars

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Eighties' UK synthpop — beloved for bathing personal sadness in the synthetic light of the available technology — was often disparaged by critics as content-free musical frosting. In fact, it embodied the tumult of its times. On their debut, UK ingénues La Roux tip their hat to the Vince Clarks and Neil Tennants of those times, but with a less polished and more desperate air, updating synthpop's appeal for the present day.

The duo's demo-level beat-and-preset lack of sheen creates the effect of being smothered on a dance floor by clunky robots with a toe-stepping lack of subtlety. But close listening is what this record's all about. With her trademark "Tilda Swinton as Cate Blanchett in that Dylan fake bio-pic if it had been about Bowie or Annie Lennox instead of Dylan" redhead swoosh, singer-songwriter Elly Jackson elevates heartbreak to epic levels; the result is as baleful and forlorn as most dance pop is swishy and effervescent.

Jackson's po'-faced delivery sets shimmering towers of heartache like "In for the Kill" and "Quicksand" amid unearthly vistas. "I can see you burning with desire/For a kiss," she sings in the chorus of "Tigerlily." You're so swept up in the sound that her repeated "fire"/"desire" couplings make you think you're hearing these hoary sentiments for the very first time.

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