More about: Lianne La Havas
It’s been eight years since Lianne La Havas released her debut, Is Your Love Big Enough?, and it feels like the singer still remains an industry secret. Her eponymous album, Lianne La Havas proves that a winning combination of plush instrumentation, honest songwriting and versatile vocal performances overshadow any need for commercial approval.
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On top of writing, producing and singing on the album, La Havas is an accomplished guitarist, and her unique approach to instrumentation shines on songs like ‘Green Papaya’ and ‘Can’t Fight’. On the former, the guitar is delicately fingerpicked to soundtrack the inklings of a new love, underscored by some pared back production. Comparatively, there’s more groove to ‘Can’t Fight’, but the tropical guitar riff compliments the gorgeous violin swells in the song.
The album is also honest about more painful moments, which are rendered into straightforward yet effective writing. ‘Paper Thin’, for instance, is an understated, contemporary lullaby dedicated to the feeling of anxiety in a relationship. La Havas’ voice is reduced to a hushed whisper as she pleads to “let me love you, I just wanna love you”. ‘Please Don’t Make Me Cry’ sees her vocals glide over some simple chords and a grooving drum beat. It’s sincere songwriting that isn’t over-embellished or underwhelming.
Arguably, the best tracks are ‘Bittersweet’ and ‘Sour Flower’, which bookend the album as its opener and closer. The expansive production on both songs highlight La Havas’ singing talents the best, providing moments of subtle drama. ‘Bittersweet’ is a woeful song which ebbs and flows at all the right moments. La Havas’s voice takes on a warm tone which can sound impassioned in one bar and pacified in the next. ‘Sour Flower’ revisits the tropical themes of ‘Can’t Fight’ to accompany her as she switches from belting to crooning effortlessly. La Havas is in no rush to end things, either, letting the listener down gently with instrumentation that gradually fades out into quiet handclaps.
There’s only two songs which feel slightly underwhelming. ‘Weird Fishes’ (sans arpeggio) is La Havas’ neo-soul reinvention of the Radiohead classic, which takes a little too long to reach its explosive ending. ‘Courage’, on the other hand, is an intimate guitar ballad that lacks any sort of tension. La Havas can make any song sound good, but ‘Courage’ is perhaps too tepid to stand up to the other fantastic tracks.
Lianne La Havas was already a fantastic album. Any songwriter would be lucky to write something this articulate, or arrange something so considered. But La Havas’ vocal abilities showcase the merits of this album in a way that many other artists can’t achieve. She has a thoughtful ear for phrasing, knowing when to hold back and when to let go. La Havas makes music making seem easy, but the amount of intelligence in this album is a wonderful testament to how talented she is.
Lianne La Havas is released on 17 July 2020 via Warner Records.
More about: Lianne La Havas