[28 August 2012]
I have heard the future of empowered female vocalists and her name is Lianne La Havas. The British-born La Havas has the vocal chops of Beyoncé and the songwriting prowess that is matched by so few artists of her ilk. It isn’t often that audiences are given so much all at once from such a young artist, and listeners will find Is Your Love Big Enough? worthy of many repeat listens. In short, La Havas is the whole package and her debut LP is surely the first of many great things to come from the latest vocal sensation from across the pond.
Is Your Love Big Enough? begins with “Don’t Wake Me Up”, a song that puts La Havas’ exquisite voice to good use right off of the bat. Thanks to some layering of the vocal tracks, listeners have the pleasure of hearing La Havas many times over. Although it is very obviously done with some slick studio trickery, the vocals still sound organic and urgent. The title-track on the album is another perfect indicator of La Havas’ potential. This is a song that could easily pass for a Beyoncé single if it had approximately 28.3% more pop sensibility injected into its production. I mean this as the highest compliment – there is something strangely authentic about the noodling guitar and hand-claps that would be lost by adding an over-powering drum machine behind La Havas’ voice.
The songs on the record illustrate an incredible amount of emotional depth and breadth from the young La Havas. “Lost & Found” is an exemplar of a post-breakup song, complete with self-deprecation and honest reflexivity. “You broke me and taught me to truly hate myself / Unfold me and teach me to be like somebody else”, La Havas croons on the tune. This is all familiar emotional terrain for a female pop vocalist, but for a debut record, La Havas handles the soul-crushing heartbreak in stunningly mature ways.
On the whole, the album doesn’t steer very far from the minimal guitar and simple rhythms created by La Havas and producer Matt Hales, but “Forget” does include a restrained hip-hop element that shows an incredible amount of courage. Even if the track is perhaps the boldest on the record, it still coheres beautifully with the rest of the work. “Au Cinema” and “Elusive” are slowed-down lounge tunes in the vein of Amy Winehouse, but without all of the bells and whistles that made the late British voice an international sensation. Still yet, these songs are incredibly powerful and La Havas deserves much credit for having the good sense to reel back on instrumentation and let her voice and words carry the songs.
Although “Age” is undoubtedly a tale of a May-December romance with a man “old enough to be [her] father”, the words “Who gives a damn about the ages we are?” are likely to take on a whole new meaning for audiences when they learn that La Havas is 22 years old. Truth be told, everyone will rightfully give a damn. The song, which was performed by La Havas on Later…with Jools Holland, can be credited for igniting her career – and for good reason. The song is representative of La Havas’ lyrical style throughout the album: direct but passionate.
The analogies with Adele – a comparison that listeners will inevitably make – are certainly warranted (both young British vocalists won a coveted award from the BBC for emerging talent), but what will make La Havas a more marketable act in the long run is her ability to show off without always having to do so in grandiose ways. The songs themselves are good (dare I say great?) enough to stand on their own without her beautiful voice piercing through the speakers at every measure. There are, of course, moments on the record where La Havas really belts it out (“Gone” and “Tease Me” on the second-half of Is Your Love Big Enough? are excellent examples), but her voice is prudently utilized throughout. La Havas thus not only emits wisdom through her voice in her lyrics, but also of her voice and knows exactly when to use it to its full potential.
The jazz-laced “They Could be Wrong” masterfully closes out Is Your Love Big Enough?, complete with pinging cymbals and a very clean guitar melody played by La Havas. The song, one that likely includes the most sophisticated instrumentation on the collection, is another highlight of the record and will surely inspire many audiences to desire another release in the near future. I could be wrong about La Havas, but my gut tells me that this young woman will be a force for a very long while.