La Roux Reimagines ‘80s Spirit With a Futuristic Vision on ‘Supervision’
La Roux began as a collaboration between singer-songwriter Elly Jackson and producer Ben Langmaid. Their 2009 self-titled album drew critical acclaim with hits like “In For the Kill” and “Bulletproof.” Since then, the two have parted ways, and Elly has retained the moniker La Roux, a name that was hers to begin with, a French term she adopted meaning “the red,” for her red hair, and specifically choosing the masculine form of the noun to represent her androgyny. She had been on hiatus since 2014, finally returning with her latest album “Supervision,” a set of songs that are all substance, no filler.
Opener “21st Century” begins like almost a caricature of everything La Roux has always been, in the best way possible. Think ‘80s exaggerated, extravagant vocals, tinny drum machines, arms flailing, and all the works. It’s about time La Roux came back, and she comes through with a bang. La Roux has always made her mark on a type of new wave indulgence, but her new album takes a different take on the same general aesthetic — fewer loud, scathing synths and howling vocals, more celebratory sounds and dancing away. “Do You Feel” is a ready-made party jam, with a portion of coy speaking, with histrionic R&B entering the mix, along with playful sound candy, in a long tradition of dance music of the most confidently, jokily enjoyable variety.
“Automatic Driver” is a song with its music video unnecessary, as the song already creates it — flash, gloss, sheen, funk, and La Roux’s idiosyncratic reimagination of Bowie and other otherworldly oddities. The song is supremely catchy, a perfect example of how La Roux effortlessly taps into pop as if it just emanates from her. The refrain of “I wanted to make a contribution, baby / I wanted to start a revolution with you” sets it over the top, as the synthesis of revolution and romance always makes for the most effective love songs. Next comes the promisingly titled “International Woman of Leisure.” La Roux is in the high register on this one, bleating away with full abandon. It’s essentially a breakup song, with a novel spin, best encapsulated in the lines “And now I can feel the change in the weather / Oh, where I’m going, I know it’s much better.” This is fit to a beat as buoyant and festive to truly make the words resonate.
It continues with no signs of abating whatsoever on “Everything I Live For.” An easy reference point for La Roux’s sound is early Madonna, and this especially comes out in this track, with all the flamboyance and overjoyed, giddy synths, not to mention the title, which could hardly better convey the feeling of the music. “Otherside” starts with designedly tacky drum machines, recalling the short-lived “freestyle” movement of early ‘90s — think Shannon, but slowed down a bit. Lyrically, it shows a more vulnerable side of La Roux. Coming from someone who made her initial impact singing about “burning bridges shore to shore,” lines like “Even when I’m switched off the yearning carries on” strike as something of a surprise, but you wouldn’t know from the music, as it’s attitude that carries this music, and an attitude in such blatant opposition to the sentiment expressed that it has to be either intentionally coordinated, or otherwise simply the result of a very peculiar personality.
“He Rides” gets bouncier yet, and at this point, one has to wonder how La Roux has such a surfeit of positive energy. This time, it’s an outburst of infatuation, but with slightly cryptic, perhaps bittersweet lyrics, with a few magical lines thrown in that bring everything to level, for instance “We’re in a rhythm steps ahead of time.” Enough said. Finally, “Gullible Fool” eases things out gently, somewhere between ‘80s slow dance and waltz, La Roux is particularly expressive with her voice here, but in a distinct mode, worlds away from the beaming histrionics of her full synth pop bangers. Midway, she switches back into that mode, for good measure, but there’s a buildup that celebrates her subtlety, with a trace inflection at the right moment making a world of difference, and once it turns all giddy and neon, it’s a welcome cause for celebration.
It has been too long since La Roux released an album, and it’s delightful that she returned with no signs of withering. The same spirit that made an impact in songs like “Bulletproof” is ever present in her latest songs, and at times amplified. Every song is catchy, and has this type of elusive and radiant ‘80s attitude that makes for a guaranteed, campy bit of fun. It’s an album well suited for both an upbeat party and dancing in your bedroom. Long term fans and newcomers alike will find plenty to enjoy in “Supervision.”
“Supervision” is available Feb. 7 on Apple Music.