Review: Lianne La Havas - Blood
Follow up album from La Havas' 2012 release
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‘Blood’ is on the whole a heavier album than its predecessor. The percussion and bass are turned up a notch, and on tracks like ‘Midnight’, La Havas lets rip on the vocals. Much of the album is a far cry from the tender and inoffensive acoustic content of ‘Is Your Love Big Enough?’.
We also find La Havas in a sunnier mood. Songs like ‘Lost & Found’ and ‘No Room for Doubt’ on her debut were pretty miserable, whereas ‘What You Won’t Do’ and ‘Unstoppable’ are fairly chirpy. In Q Magazine, La Havas described the theme of the album as ‘family and roots’, exploring her dual Greek and Jamaican heritage. These themes dominate stand-out track ‘Green and Gold’, where La Havas sings ‘those eyes you gave me/ that let me see/ where I come from’ in a sensitive exploration of her identity. Musically, it sounds like someone’s transposed the riff from Soak’s ‘Sea Creatures’ from a rainy Ireland to a laid-back life in the Caribbean. The song breezily drifts by, with La Havas’s pristine vocals complimented by chilled-out guitar and brass flourishes.
Most of the tracks share this song’s airy, sunny quality, and it’s clear that La Havas has embraced elements of her musical heritage.
Underneath the excellent chorus of ‘Grow’ shimmers a restless Latin American bass groove. ‘Tokyo’ has at least one foot in soul music, whilst ‘What You Don’t Do’ adds a call and response chorus to its Western pop. ‘Never Get Enough’, on the other hand, misfires slightly, as La Havas experiments with a more rock based approach, but tries to blend this with the shimmering, jazz-influenced guitar present on the rest of the album.
On some of the tracks, La Havas pivots from sounds that don’t entirely suit her, to playing it a little too safe. ‘Unstoppable’ tries to be anthemic, but ends up being slightly bewildering. ‘Ghosts’ has the opposite problem, being too gentle a song and easily overlooked compared with the bigger tracks on the record.
Despite all this though, the album does have a distinct sound, a captivating fusion of different genres which is musically more interesting than her debut.
Along with her refined sound, La Havas demonstrates a lyrical subtlety not often found in contemporary pop music. ‘What You Don’t Do’ is a bouncy single that could almost have been written by La Havas’s former mentor Paloma Faith, but what sets it apart is its rejection of clichés and emotional maturity. La Havas cherishes the little things, telling her lover that ‘no grand gesture could ever be made to measure you’.
Throughout the album La Havas rarely opts for emotional primary colours. ‘Wonderful’ is a restrained break-up song, uniting piano, finger clicking and understated strings for a track with real depth. The chorus of ‘wasn’t it kind of wonderful’ perfectly captures the not-quite dead embers of a past relationship.
Closing track ‘Good Goodbye’ is a sensitive song about death, embracing hope rather than despair. ‘No one ever leaves you’ sings La Havas delicately, exploring how the memories we leave survive us.
On balance, there’s definitely more to love about ‘Blood’ than criticise. Let’s hope it proves to be another step in La Havas’s upward trajectory.