You can hardly blame Elly Jackson for her extended four-year absence. Synth pop’s androgynous ice maiden enjoyed whirlwind success with La Roux’s debut - a Grammy Award, a Mercury nomination, and two global hits with In for the Kill and Bulletproof.
This lush-sounding follow-up was apparently marred by unsuccessful collaborations, postponed release dates, and artistic disharmony between Jackson and musical partner Ben Langmaid, which lead to his ultimate departure. Jackson’s struggles with burn-out and performance anxiety cannot have helped and it may have looked like she was another cast-off from an accelerated pop industry where overnight success only lasts until the following night.
The title of Trouble in Paradise suggests turmoil behind the exotica. Langmaid has five co-writes here, including the most personal song Let Me Down Gently, but the coolly aloof Jackson sounds like an artist, if not quite remade, than certainly freer.
Most of these new songs are drenched the glare of the summer of ’84. They may as well wear hot pink pedal pushers and stonewashed denim. The irresistible sugar rush of Kiss Don’t Tell has all the herky jerky appeal of Tom Tom Club but sophisto pop also rubs padded shoulders with 80s chart cheese and maybe Paradise Is You, makes too much of its post-ironic references to Bananarama’s Long Cruel Summer.
The best tracks are Cruel Sexuality, Sexotheque (shoo-in for next single) and the reggae lilt of lead single Tropical Chancer, which adroitly samples My Jamaican Guy by Grace Jones and sees Jackson’s posh diction create the requisite decadent loadsamoney London mood.
On the downside, you wouldn’t need to be a daytime TV host to divine the meaning behind Silent Partner but the heartfelt lyrics are not best served by a synth bassline that could be from any number of Now That’s What I Call Music compilations from the eighties, what appears to be a cheeky nod to Hot Butter’s 1972 hit Popcorn and, well, the theme tune to the camper than thou sixties TV series of Batman.
Much better are Jackson's aerobatic falsetto vocals on excellenty closing track The Feeling. They are really unlike anything you'll hear this year. La Roux were never going to have the sheer oddness of The Knife or the all-out drama of Robyn but the atmosphere of sad-eyed detachment on Trouble in Paradise is a very enjoyable indeed - both danceable and thought-provoking.