**** (out of four)
Allow me to paraphrase the nine songs on "Trouble in Paradise," La Roux's long-awaited sophomore album that exceptionally documents a flawed relationship's life cycle:
1. Uptight Downtown: "Loneliness and insecurity causes nervousness and negativity, and yearning comes from being on the outside looking in."
2. Kiss and Not Tell: "I'd love to put myself out there, but with all the potential for hurt, it's safer to keep everything private."
3. Cruel Sexuality: "Something promising has come along, and at times I feel great. Is it real? How do I handle this? Will I regret giving this a chance?"
4. Paradise is You: "OK, I'm all in. Dreamy or not, you've captivated me, and I believe in us. Let's go for it."
5. Sexotheque: "There's no trust here, so when I don't know what's up, my imagination runs wild with the worst and pictures you somewhere sleazy."
6. Tropical Chancer: "What seemed beautiful gave no sign you were an opportunist who'd look elsewhere, preferring the unknown to the known."
7. Silent Partner: "This pain is consuming me. Even when nothing is happening, I hear it. I can't wait to stop feeling this way."
8. Let Me Down Gently: "I could break up with you, but I'd feel better if you showed me the respect of treating me properly, even in a breakup."
9. The Feeling: "I still have complicated feelings about all of this, and seeing you will put me right back in that place. But I have perspective now, and, mostly, I'm doing fine."
Oddly, the album's accompanying press notes do not indicate this as the explicit intent of La Roux (real name: Elly Jackson), who won the Best Electronic/Dance album Grammy for her great, 2 million-selling, 2009 self-titled debut. Now 26 and working without previous producer Ben Langmaid, Jackson apparently just wanted her follow-up to address a variety of doubtvs and elevate the English artist's electro-pop to a "more special" place with advanced instrumentation.
Mission accomplished: The musical pacing is as flawless as the emotions, tracing various degrees of vulnerability and interpersonal turmoil through a spectrum of grooving or seductive danceability. "Paradise is You" is simply gorgeous, while "Silent Partner," on which she sings, "You're not my partner/No, you're not a part of me," rides an irresistible, near-Michael Jackson beat that goes along with the record's most devastated lyrical content.
Whether or not the album's overall impact is deliberate, it's a cohesive, sophisticated knockout—honest and hopeful while well-aware of all the reasons not to be.
firstname.lastname@example.org | @mattpais