The Week In Pop: La Roux’s Trouble In Paradise Finds Breezy Ways To Brood
Trouble In Paradise is the sound of Elly Jackson letting her hair down. The La Roux singer’s aggressive upward spike of follicles has been combed into a gentle waterslide-like swoop, and her second album — and first without behind-the-scenes bandmate Ben Langmaid — is accordingly looser and less brusque. She has styled herself less like an alien than on 2009’s self-titled debut, and yeah, her new songs ache with a weary humanity that was absent before. Chilly space-age bleeps and bloops deployed with jarring precision have given way to organic funk and new wave. She is bulletproof no more, it seems — licking her wounds rather than going in for the kill.
It only makes sense that Jackson would be wounded after her partnership with Langmaid ruptured so spectacularly. “We are not on good terms at all, in any way, shape or form,” she told New Zealand’s 3 News. The sped-up “Billie Jean”-meets-Flashdance groove “Silent Partner” seemingly addresses this directly: “You’re not my partner/ No, you’re not a part of me/ I need silence.” Still, the wistful brooding that courses through Trouble In Paradise seems romantic in nature. Either way, it’s a first-rate breakup album, at least until “Sexotheque” comes along and tests our collective ability to keep a straight face.
Before “Sexotheque” — which bifurcates the album, and which is nearly as catchy as it is ridiculous — Trouble In Paradise starts out with a stunning string of groovy heartbreak jams. Opener “Uptight Downtown” plays like a darker cousin to Whitney Houston’s “I Wanna Dance With Somebody” in which the protagonist is slinking away from a lover’s arms for the last time rather than in for the first. It’s a fantastic way to start a record even if “When did all these people/ Decide to change their shoes, shoes, shoes?” is a weird question for somebody who altered their personal style so much between LPs. That one’s followed by three songs in which you might miss Jackson’s stupendous turns of phrase because you’re dancing too hard: the exceptionally peppy “Kiss And Not Tell,” (“You got the elegance, but it’s weighing you down/ And sometimes you just need a night on the town”), the delightful New-Order-meets-the-Weeknd concoction “Cruel Sexuality” (“Oh, you keep me happy in my everyday life/ Why must you keep me in my prison at night?”), and the album’s most overtly depressive anthem, “Paradise Is You” (“The palm trees make it feel like a paradise/ But without you here, there’s nothing nice”). OK, that last lyric might need some work.
There are a lot of feelings fighting for control of Jackson’s psyche throughout this record, some of them quite ugly, but the music never ceases to be approachable. Some might even find it too shiny for its own good. Pitchfork’s Mike Powell described the aesthetic cleverly: “It is crisp and modern, but cheerful, too, like a Patrick Nagel in Hockney color, or the diminutive little ‘i’ in Apple products — the machine that wants you to take it home and make it your pal.” Even the minor-key theatrics of lead single “Let Me Down Gently” could pass for friendly party music with the right remix. That sleek exterior is hardly grounds to reject Trouble In Paradise as a lifestyle product or mere ’80s pastiche, though. There’s substance to this music; the songs fully inhabit their retro-futuristic bodysuits. And at only nine tracks long, with music as darkly effervescent as this, Trouble In Paradise is arguably the breeziest breakup album in recorded history. See you at the sexotheque, then?
The week’s big chart hero is “Weird Al” Yankovic, who scored his first ever #1 album by selling 104,000 copies of Mandatory Fun. Billboard reports that this is the first comedy album to top the charts since Allan Sherman’s My Son, The Nut in 1963, which was 51 years ago. Even the comedy albums that went to #2 since then were all released in the ’70s. Mandatory Fun‘s 104,000 also represents Weird Al’s best sales week of the SoundScan era. Strange times we’re living in.
Three more debuts follow Yankovic: Jason Mraz (who must have been expecting to enter at #1) is at #2 with 75,000 in sales for Yes!, followed by Rise Against’s The Black Market (#3, 53,000) and Kidz Bop Kids’ Kidz Bop 26 (#4, 46,000). What a weird top 4! Nothing weird about the Frozen soundtrack at #5 with 43,000, though — that’s kind of like the sun rising in the east and setting in the west at this point. Rounding out the top 10: Sam Smith’s In The Lonely Hour (#6, 35,000), Ed Sheeran’s x (#7, 24,000), Now 50 (#8, 23,000), Trey Songz’s Trigga (#9, 23,000), and Blake Shelton’s Based On A True Story…, which soars from #63 to #10 with 22,000 in sales thanks to special iTunes pricing.
Over on the Hot 100, MAGIC! remains on top with “Rude” for a second straight week. (Incidentally, the band visited our friends at Idolator this week.) Iggy Azalea & Charli XCX’s Questlove-approved “Fancy” is still at #2. Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” shoots up to #3 this week, a career peak for him so far. A neat bit of trivia from Billboard: The last time Hot 100 rookies controlled the top three spots was May 2012, when it was Gotye & Kimbra’s “Somebody That I Used To Know,” Fun.’s “We Are Young,” and the Wanted’s “Glad You Came”). Also, might I point out that all three of the current leaders are foreigners?
The rest of the top 10 from #4 on down: Ariana Grande & Azalea’s “Problem,” Nico & Vinz’s “Am I Wrong,” John Legend’s “All Of Me,” Maroon 5’s “Maps,” Jason Derulo & Snoop Dogg’s “Wiggle,” Disclosure & Sam Smith’s “Latch,” and Calvin Harris’ “Summer.” Notably for those of us hoping to see Charli XCX crack the top 10 with a song of her own, “Boom Clap” is up to #14 this week.
Katy Perry – “This Is How We Do”
As fifth singles go, “This” is certainly no “Last Friday Night (T.G.I.F.)” — but what is, really? Still, even setting aside the nearly impossible standard Perry set for herself with Teenage Dream, I have a hard time imagining this serviceable but unmemorable bit of electro-pop cracking the top 10 if it wasn’t Perry.
MNEK – “I Wrote A Song About You”
Actually, Katy, this is how we do. This is how we do it, rather. MNEK, one of the most promising young British pop stars I wrote about recently, is so good at re-creating that early ’90s dance-pop sound. This is the sort of thing I wish Sam Smith was doing.
Counting Crows – “Scarecrow”
First thought: When did Counting Crows become Black Crowes? Second thought: “Scarecrow” is a grower; occasional glimpses of the weary bleeding-heart folk-rock I miss from August And Everything After shine behind the blues-rock guitar at the front of the mix. Is there a place for this kind of song at pop radio anymore? I’m not sure there is.
Brianna Perry – “I’m That B.I.T.C.H.”
Perry is a recent graduate of the University Of Miami, and B.I.T.C.H. stands for Beautiful Intelligent Touch Chick in Heels. What about when she wears flats? Notably, this song features the lyric “Pussy taste just like honey/ Keep it 100.”
Kirko Bangz – “Rich” (Feat. August Alsina)
Basically the gospel version of Drake and Trey Songz’s eerie “Successful” by a Drake clone for whom this makes perfect sense and an upstart R&B singer who should really know better. It’s a prescient reminder of how much Drake would sound like T-Pain if he didn’t have 40 gracing him with all these glycerine melancholy beats. The only part of this that ascends above mere urban radio filler is when Kirko weaves in a snippet of his great “Drank In My Cup.”
Solange Hilário – “Tick Tock”
Is there room for two Solanges in mainstream pop? “Tick Tock” — which doesn’t leave the same impression as Ke$ha’s “Tik Tok” but is still really good anyway — suggests that Beyoncé’s sister might have to make room whether she wants to or not.
Sheppard – “Geronimo”
Never would have believed that 10 years later actual Australian pop songs would sound like Architecture In Helsinki tracks.
NEWS IN BRIEF
- The iHeartRadio Music Festival announced its lineup, and it includes basically every name that’s dominating pop radio right now including Taylor Swift, Coldplay, Ariana Grande, Usher, Paramore, Nicki Minaj, Iggy Azalea, Eric Church, and many more. [iHeartRadio]
- Swift is expected to debut new material at the festival. [Twitter]
- Robin Thicke’s plan to win back Paula Patton must not be working out because they put their house up for sale. [The Hollywood Reporter]
- The new Maroon 5 album ends with a song featuring Gwen Stefani. [Popjustice]
- Hilary Duff is officially making a comeback with single “Chasing The Sun” due out soon. [Idolator]
- Mariah Carey is hinting that she’s going back on tour. [Vibe]
- Justin Bieber is going to be a Calvin Klein model. [Pink Is The New Blog]