TERRY GROSS, host:
Our Rock Critic Ken Tucker has a review of the debut album by La Roux, a British pop music duo featuring 21-year-old singer Elly Jackson and synthesizer player and producer Ben Langmaid. The pair's debut album, also called �La Roux,� was an immediate number one hit earlier this year in England and throughout Europe.
(Soundbite of song, �Armour Love�)
Ms. ELLY JACKSON (Lead Singer, La Roux): (Singing) You pull on your Armour. You put up defenses. Why do you want to? Because I'm here to protect you. So take it easy. I'll make it so easy. You can lay your head down. And we'll leave it till tomorrow. You seem to believe you belong to somebody else.
KEN TUCKER: At a time when some of the most prominent American pop acts hold back the emotion in favor of rigorous control - I'm thinking of you, Lady Gaga, and you, Jay-Z - the full-throated ardor of the La Roux's Elly Jackson arrives as a nice corrective. When it comes to singing with heartbreak in her voice, Jackson's current competition in America would be a pop-country singer, like Taylor Swift. But there's nothing country about La Roux's clipped synthesizer rifts and tight but expansive choruses. Elly Jackson sings with agonized urgency, a demonstrative defensiveness, on a disco love song such as La Roux's biggest hit so far �Bulletproof.�
(Soundbite of song, �Bulletproof�)
Ms. JACKSON: Been there, done that, messed around. I'm having fun, don't put me down. I'll never let you sweep me off my feet. I won't let you in again. The messages I've tried to send. My information's just not going in. Burning bridges, shore to shore. I break away from something more. I'm not to, not to love until it's cheap. Been there, done that, messed around. I'm having fun, don't put me down. I'll never let you sweep me off my feet. This time baby I'll be bulletproof.
TUCKER: This time baby I'll be bulletproof, sings Elly Jackson as her partner, Ben Langmaid, stabs out sharp notes on a synthesizer. They rev up the music into a hurricane swirl of stubbornness and vulnerability. She may say she's bulletproof but Jackson is singing with the wounded cry of a woman who's been wronged and hurt too many times before. There's nothing new about this, of course, but what draws you in is the tension between the mechanical beats and the passionate singing.
(Soundbite of song, �Colourless Colour�)
Ms. JACKSON: (Singing): You say it's coming. But I can't see it at all. You know me well. But I don't know you at all. No I don't know you at all. It's always just on the horizon. So, my hopes rise and fall. You know me well. But I don't know you at all. No, I don't know you at all. Early nineties decor. It was a day for. We wanted to play. But we had nothing left to play for. Colourless colour. Once in fashion and soon to be seen.
TUCKER: That song, �Colourless Color,� is very much an example of the 1980s styles La Roux draws from. Overseas acts, such as the Human League, Yazoo and Depeche Mode, ring in your ears as you listen to various songs on the album. Elly Jackson bends and snaps her vocals in a manner that would bring a blush to the cheek of Boy George. And on this song, �Cover My Eyes,� La Roux enlists the London Community Gospel Choir to back Elly Jackson in a chorus that, rather remarkably, never becomes overblown. That's because of a vocal from Jackson that's a perfect pop paradox - quavery, delicate, yet surgingly strong.
(Soundbite of song, �Cover My Eyes�)
Ms. JACKSON: (Singing) So would you hold me please. I'm trying hard to breathe. I'm just surviving. So would you hold me please? I'm trying hard to breathe. Stop me from crying. When I see you walking with her, I have to cover my eyes. I have to cover my eyes. Every time you leave with her, something inside me dies. Something inside me dies.
TUCKER: On stage, La Roux can seem a one-person show - Ben Langmaid doesn't tour with Jackson or her backing band. He doesn't even allow himself to be photographed, if possible. And Elly Jackson makes up for that absence with a striking theatricality, some of it on the top of her head. The cherry-red hair that gives the act its name is sculpted into something that looks like a wave in an ocean storm or a canoe that's being buffeted by that wave. Combine this with her slight frame and scrunched-up face when she sings, and you've got a performer who's holding nothing back in an arch, witty, calculated way.
GROSS: Ken Tucker is editor-at-large for Entertainment Weekly. He reviewed the debut album from La Roux.
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