Katy B: Little Red

[6 March 2014]

By Francesca D'Arcy-Orga

Fame and success has a way of completely changing a person and their music. Justin Bieber and Miley Cyrus went off the rails, Shia LaBeouf isn’t even famous anymore, Kanye West has pushed the boundaries of what hip hop means and sounds like, and others, like Katy B, manage to not stray too far from their roots. With her second album, Little Red Katy B manages to produce an effort that has her sticking to her roots, the clubs of South and East London, garage, dubstep and brilliant production.

“5AM” and “Aaliyah” are two of the best songs on the album. “5AM” captures the essence and feel of raving hard till the early hours of the morning perfectly. It’s not surprising, since Katy B knows the club and rave scene so well, that she would be able to create a song so perfectly in tune with the feelings and emotions you feel during a night of revelry and debauchery. “Aaliyah” is a song that brings Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” into the 21st century club scene and features the first of two South Londoners that make an appearance on the album, the phenomenal Jessie Ware. These songs were offered up to the public ear early on, with Aaliyah being released for free back in 2012. It’s already been said that musical styles change and perhaps these songs were written when Katy B was immersed in the rave scene in the same way as she was when she released On A Mission. The rest of the album seems to suggest that the clubbing scene isn’t the only scene Katy B knows how to address. She can take a step back from the dance floor and enter into the worlds of love, heartbreak and growing up, but by doing so she often loses the fire and oomph.

The exception to that is the token ballad “Crying For No Reason”. It opens with the cliche tinkling sounds of the piano, enough to let anyone know that the subject is breakups and sadness, in case the title hadn’t already given that away. The trademark synth comes into force after a minute or so, putting the Katy B spin on a song which could easily be made into a tear jerker by the likes of Emeli Sande or Adele. Because of this, and it’s catchiness, it easily has the potential to be incredibly well received by fans and new listeners alike.

During a night out, there comes a point when you just want to go home. The fun of raving in a sweaty basement under strobe lights has worn off. Your feet hurt and you realise you have a life to lead the next day. When that moment hits you, the bubble of fun inevitably bursts and you drop out of the zone. This is sadly what seems to happen with Little Red. There reaches a point, somewhere in the middle of the album, where each song just rolls into the next and the album has lost its ability to truly retain its audience. It fades away and sounds tired.

The second feature on the album is fellow Londoner, Sampha. His international breakthrough came after he was featured on two songs on Canadian singer Drake’s latest album. Prior to this, he worked extensively with Jessie Ware, producing some gorgeous duets, such as “Valentine”. The difference in quality and intensity between those collaborations and his work with Katy B on “Play” is enough to disappoint. The song is flat, and the potential chemistry never quite appears.

When Katy B released her first album it gave the music scene a burst of energy. This sort of music hadn’t been mainstream in a long time and Katy B was right at the heart of it. In the last three years the scene has inevitably changed, and what was so exciting in 2011 is being done to death by everyone from world class DJs, to young teenagers in their bedrooms. Unfortunately Little Red doesn’t bring anything new or fresh to the table. It’s classic Katy B, and it’s good, but there’s something missing. While there’s glimpses of the magic that listeners heard oozing through On A Mission it doesn’t pervade Little Red. The album isn’t a let down, and in comparison to the current albums out right now it’s definitely of a higher quality, but I, for one, was expecting more.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/179243-katy-b-little-red/