Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the North
Rob Fookes
Features Writer
10:05 AM 10th August 2020

Lianne La Havas: Courageous, Bittersweet And A Green Papaya

A lot has changed in the world in the five years since we last heard new music from Lianne La Havas. Indeed, it has been so long that some would be forgiven for thinking 2015’s Grammy-nominated Blood would be the last we heard from the London singer-songwriter. I at the very least was certainly surprised at the announcement of this new, self-titled effort.

Lianne La Havas
Lianne La Havas
The album’s style is best described as an eclectic mix of neo-soul with inflections of other genres and sounds: there’s the luxurious layers of Bittersweet, the captivating, jazzy picked guitar of Green Papaya and the wistful, delicate Courage.

Running through the record and keeping everything cohesive are La Havas’ vocals. In equal parts commanding and nuanced, her singing performances are often a breath-taking centrepiece to these songs, with the backing tracks layered around, providing the best possible launching pad to her next hushed smoulder or stunning high note. While this does allow for some real flexing of La Havas’ vocal muscles, sometimes it does seem like the instrumentals are almost forced into being quite muted in order to compensate. I feel that if you were to just listen to the instrumental tracks of this album, there wouldn’t be much to shout about, and I would’ve liked to have seen a bit more going on in terms of accompaniment.

The album generally displays a mastery of melody, with earworm after earworm being delivered with surgical precision. There is also an intriguing dynamic quality to how the tracks roam from belting to restrained and back again, creating a lovely ebb and flow to the mood of the songs. However, the more restrained tracks do occasionally run the risk of bleeding into background noise, especially towards the tail end of the record’s runtime.

The themes of the album strike me as loosely exploring the concept of relationships which can invoke symbolism of life cycles, even metaphorical rebirth after pain. As such, lyrically there is a lot of imagery pertaining to the natural world, such as weather and floral metaphors for La Havas’ own development and growth.

This growth is more than just the words being sung. La Havas has previously expressed her regrets with Blood, such as the song What You Don’t Do, which as it turns out she had no creative input with. She’s said that she didn’t feel Blood was representative of her as an artist, and that feeling led to the five-year development cycle that this album went through. It seems that this gap in release has involved a lot of ruminating about what she really wants to be as an artist, and it shows here.

The songs on Lianne La Havas come across as incredibly authentic; even the cover of Radiohead’s Weird Fishes feels like it has come straight from her pen and been laced with her musical DNA. As such, the three-arc structure of the album, going from love to breakup to flourishing in independence, can also apply to La Havas’ career thus far. The difficulties that she had with her artistic identity in Blood have led to this newfound confidence in who she is as an artist, and Lianne La Havas is the result; the statement of a fully-fledged musician at the top of her game.