Lianne La Havas: Blood

With Blood, Lianne La Havas rediscovers herself and adds a prefix to her name.

Lianne La Havas


Label: Nonesuch
Release Date: 2015-07-31

Ladies and gentlemen. Children of all ages. Cats. Dogs. Animals of all kind. Please turn your attention to the stage. Put your hands together. Be ready to give a warm welcome. Cheer as loud as you can. Get out of your seats. And say hello to … Ms. Lianne La Havas!

Ms. Lianne La Havas is different than Lianne La Havas, of course. The latter was pretty great herself, what with 2012's excitingly subtle and mildly underrated Is Your Love Big Enough? Led by an infectious title track with an even more infectious clap-your-hands chorus cadence, that set announced La Havas as a songwriting beauty. Armed with her electric guitar and an entire ton of complicated emotions, she went from mysteriously cute ("Au Cinema") to fearlessly in love ("Age") to desperately heartbroken ("Lost & Found") and she did so with a grace and maturity that left No Room For Doubt about precisely how far her talents could evolve.

Ms. Lianne La Havas, though? She's the one at the forefront of the nearly flawless Blood. Gone are those apprehensive tones that painted her debut with affect and precision. In is a ringing endorsement from Prince and a power so prominent, you have to check your iTunes every now and then to make sure this isn't some off-handed Beyonce or Alicia Keys collection that you've been listening to. Out is a reliance on her timid, interesting and fruitful guitar noodling. Taking its place is a kind of super-production that puts the groove front and center and takes the bass volume to 12. If Lianne La Havas was a really good folk-soul queen in 2012, Ms. Lianne La Havas is a bona fide neo-R&B star in 2015.

And this is proven no less than two tracks into Blood. "Green & Gold" has a crossover appeal that La Havas lacked before, its slithering bass line adding a level of funk that the singer probably didn't even know she had. It's the perfect combination of where she was and where she is, the track easing itself in with her subdued electric guitar before essentially being buried in the mix in favor of a slinky feel that comes to life with the help of a horn section. You can't not two-step to it.

Meanwhile, opener "Unstoppable" ditches the six-string altogether, allowing the singer to grab the mic and dance. The hook is weirdly reminiscent of Keys' "Unbreakable" (which isn't a bad thing) and it serves as a cathartic moment each time La Havas steps up and belts her proclamation. She's not wondering if anyone's love is big enough anymore; she's insisting that it already is. The same applies to "Grow", which has a hook that offers echoes of another Keys track from As I Am, "I Need You", complete with world-dominating voice and aggressive production.

Yet even when that aggression dies down, and the singer gets back to where she started, the vibe is different. "Ghost" strips things back to the way they used to be, guitar and singer, but there are little touches to the background that were previously missing (namely, the eerie effects that fade in and out as she sings). Plus, she's aged. When she intones, "Lost somewhere between a foe and friend, round and round again," that voice is weathered just a little bit more than it was before. There's a pain she's accrued that took the place of the charming naivety often heard on her debut.

"Good Goodbye" is where that mix of past and present cuts deepest. The backing strings and keys aren't things she had at her disposal before and neither is the impact of a line like "I've never seen you cry." She says it with that trademark delicate voice, but this time it's accompanied by the stare of a cold-blooded murderer. Plus, holy shit, it's sad. And in a rare turn of events for pop music, the grandiose production values do the singer favors, adding drama and prestige to a tune that could have been just another depressing song from just another artist with just another guitar.

Still, what makes Blood great -- and not just good -- is that turn toward a soulful upbeat that La Havas once lacked. "Tokyo" is enigmatic and fun. It finds the sweet spot between Taylor Swift's 1989 and Jill Scott's The Light Of The Sun, calling upon The Purple One's influence with a slap-friendly bass line throughout the chorus and atmospherics that paint each verse with intrigue. Second single "What You Don't Do" modernizes doo-wop and begs to be performed with a back line of Mrs. Carter's dancers. When she hits "Don't tell the whole world / Just wanna be your girl", you can hear how much she's going for it. The emotion is there. The inhibition is there. The power is there. The desire is there. The passion is there.

Which sums up Blood better than anything else. Emotion. Inhibition. Power. Desire. Passion. If Is Your Love Big Enough? was designed to get our attention, Blood is designed to keep it. The steps forward here are borderline transcendent for an artist who once appeared to have no problem fading into the back, blending in with the noises and the pain around her. This time around, that artist has taken charge, immersing herself in soul music while staying true to her folk roots. It's the best kind of rhythm and blues: no reservations, no fear, no bounds, no parameters.

It's not Lianne La Havas. It's Ms. Lianne La Havas.






A Certain Ratio Return with a Message of Hope on 'ACR Loco'

Inspired by 2019's career-spanning box set, legendary Manchester post-punkers A Certain Ratio return with their first new album in 12 years, ACR Loco.


Oscar Hijuelos' 'Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love' Dances On

Oscar Hijuelos' dizzyingly ambitious foot-tapping family epic, Mambo Kings Play the Songs of Love, opened the door for Latinx writers to tell their stories in all their richness.


PM Picks Playlist 2: Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES, SOUNDQ

PopMatters Picks Playlist features the electropop of Bamboo Smoke, LIA ICES' stunning dream folk, Polish producer SOUNDQ, the indie pop of Pylon Heights, a timely message from Exit Kid, and Natalie McCool's latest alt-pop banger.


'Lost Girls and Love Hotels' and Finding Comfort in Sadness

William Olsson's Lost Girls and Love Hotels finds optimism in its message that life tears us apart and puts us back together again differently.


Bright Eyes' 'Down in the Weeds' Is a Return to Form and a Statement of Hope

Bright Eyes may not technically be emo, but they are transcendently expressive, beatifically melancholic. Down in the Weeds is just the statement of grounding that we need as a respite from the churning chaos around us.


Audrey Hepburn + Rome = Grace, Class, and Beauty

William Wyler's Roman Holiday crosses the postcard genre with a hardy trope: Old World royalty seeks escape from stuffy, ritual-bound, lives for a fling with the modern world, especially with Americans.


Colombia's Simón Mejía Plugs Into the Natural World on 'Mirla'

Bomba Estéreo founder Simón Mejía electrifies nature for a different kind of jungle music on his debut solo album, Mirla.


The Flaming Lips Reimagine Tom Petty's Life in Oklahoma on 'American Head'

The Flaming Lips' American Head is a trip, a journey to the past that one doesn't want to return to but never wants to forget.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.