It's worth getting over the stupid hair of La Roux singer Elly. I almost ignored this British synth-pop duo because of its singer's attention-hungry tresses. It's like, congratulations on your calculation; what the hell do you want, a cookie? An unfairly platinum record? The starred legacy of Flock of Seagulls? Some V05 Hot Oil? I live in Williamsburg, which isn't so much a neighborhood as a 24/7 white-people hair show. I've been there, done that, messed around and I don't need it in my pop music.
You can see how hung up I am on Elly's seemingly Rankin-Bass-inspired locks, and the fact that I've come to love La Roux's self-titled debut despite them is testament to the substance that reinforces the style. And that is what I admire the most about La Roux: they back their shit up. La Roux kicks off with "In for the Kill," and that's a perfect phrase to describe the album's tone. Elly's full-throttle wail is immediate. There is no easing in, she just starts screeching. There are shades of Kate Bush when she gets excited, and like Annie Lennox she has the tendency to drown out the beats she sings over so you momentarily forget it's dance music that you're listening to, but tonally her singing voice sounds most like the high-pitched crying voice of Real Chance of Love/Charm School contestant K.O. This is not easy listening, and it is never sold as such.
There's an almost showtuney chutzpah that casts away any remaining illusions of super-coolness on the current U.K. single and maybe single of the year, "Bulletproof." Elly's delivery is like sonic humidity to that hair of hers. When she proclaims, "This time, baby, I'll be bulletproof!" as a declaration of self-reliance and -esteem in the song's chorus, her cheer sounds damn close to invincible. You'd be hard pressed to find another synth-pop singer (from this or any wave of the vague genre) so invested in the art of interpretation. A covers album can't be far off.
So, La Roux take the bravado angle and song after song after song, they back up the confidence with deviously pointed hooks. At best their best (like during "Fascination"), they sound like Yaz making 8-bit disco for clubs that have been long closed. Sometimes when they bust out the steel-drum sounds and make your average 21st century quandary (someone's cheating on his or her boyfriend with Elly's narrator) sound as alien as it does in "Quicksand," they come off as a less edgy Knife. There's a sense that we've more or less heard this all before from different sources; whether or not this particular concoction works for any given person seems particularly subjective. (I prefer a ballsy approach like this over something like Little Boots, who's basically a ballet flat away from being Dido.)
But when La Roux grabs hold of you, watch out. I planned to run a Maxwell review in this space, but I haven't even gotten through the entirety of BLACKsummer'snight, because La Roux took over my listening life this week. Oh, and also because what I've heard of the Maxwell album is fucking boring. But whatever. One thing I love about pop music is that you can have this intense flings with an album or a group and then in a few months get over it and wonder, "What was I thinking?" (I barely remember what I saw in Bat for Whatshername.) In my experience, the essential pop fanatic is a polygamist. You can never have too many lovers. You can never over-consume what begs to be consumed. Whatever the 20/20 hindsight turns out to be, I'm very much in the honeymoon period with La Roux, and I don't even care what Elly did to her hair for our wedding.