Artist: Lianne La Havas
Album: Is Your Love Big Enough?
Genre: Soul, Folk, Indie
Label: Warner Bros.
Quality: FLAC (tracks+.cue)
Don’t Wake Me Up [03:45]
Is Your Love Big Enough? [03:22]
Lost & Found [04:28]
Au Cinеma [04:18]
No Room For Doubt (feat. Willy Mason) [04:05]
Everything Everything [03:50]
Tease Me [03:38]
They Could Be Wrong [03:21]
For those of us who grew up on a romantic notion of soul music being in some way countercultural, its reduction to a supermarket commodity, sat in a basket next to the latest Grazia, can be dispiriting. A quick glance at the CV of south Londoner Lianne La Havas suggests that she’s being packaged by the music business as the next tasteful artist off the production line. La Havas has something, though. Listen once to the winsome, open mic-night tune Age, and it’s cloying. Listen a few times and its breezy jazziness – you can smell the Pizza Express oregano from here – masks an emotionally erudite song. It sounds nothing like the thrusting R&B-influenced British soul-pop of the past couple of years, which is, at least, refreshing.
Much is stacked against the 22-year-old, if we are hung up on credibility. La Havas has been “in development” for a couple of years. Last autumn’s keynote performance on Later… with Jools Holland introduced her to a public eager for a new, more chipper Corinne Bailey Rae. She’s done time as Paloma Faith’s backing singer. Her co-writer is Matt “Aqualung” Hales, the man best known for soundtracking a VW commercial 10 years ago. That’s coffee table-album bingo, right there.
It gets more polite. On the two EPs that preceded this debut album, La Havas revealed a tasteful, small-hours sound in which jazz, folk and soul rubbed bare shoulders. More often than not, La Havas sings about love, autobiographically. On Au Cinema, a couple appear to watch themselves make a movie. At no point do you even imagine it’s a sex tape. If La Havas has any correlatives this year, it’s Michael Kiwanuka, another retro guitar player imbued with gentler sentiments.
The album’s title track tells the ballad of Lianne, and it’s persuasive. “I found myself in a secondhand guitar,” La Havas sings. She lays the future out for her partner. Is his love big enough for what’s to come? Shacking up with a working musician is a special kind of hell: the nights away, touring; the emotional rollercoaster of failure or success. Anyway, we think he said yes.
The second half of the album dips gently into something of a mush. But before that happens, La Havas shows some small teeth. No Room for Doubt is a duet between La Havas and Martha’s Vineyard folk-pop man Willy Mason. “We all make mistakes, we do,” they agree. But then they throw one last little dart: “I learned from you.” Forget is equally blunt. “Waste all your time writing love songs,” La Havas accuses, “but you don’t love me.” The track soon blossoms into a clever interplay of rhythms and layered vocals – a little tribal abandon, a bit of jazzy wit.
La Havas has dropped Lauryn Hill and Erykah Badu as key influences, and you do wish she had some of the sonic bravery of the latter-day Badu. The pleasures of Is Your Love Big Enough? lie in its subtleties, though: the way La Havas’s vocals purr and pounce by turns, how Matt Hales’s production refuses to be obvious. Showboating is kept to a minimum – as, indeed, is the threat of supermarket cheesiness.