Updated: Dec 4, 2020
Favorite Track: "Sour Flower" Least Favorite Track: "Green Papaya"
I have always been incredibly fascinated by the human voice. The intricacies that it can contain are captivating, whether it be the incredibly melancholic and inviting timbre of my all time favorite singer, Hozier, or the beauty in the anger and pain of nearly any punk vocalist you can think of. This all leads back to the fact that no human voice is like the other, which is why I am so captivated by Lianne La Havas’ 2020 self-titled release. Lianne’s voice is the most recent example of a singer so one-of-a-kind that it astonishes me. Her voice is smoky, almost making me feel as though I am sitting beside a bonfire on a cold night, completely at peace with the world around me. It is soulful, as though she has a true love for everything she is singing about. It is quirky, with cute little vocal inflections that truly make or break multiple tracks on the record, but Lianne never fails to make them pass with flying colors. In essence, Lianne La Havas is a portrait of a singer at the top of her craft.
The things I love about this record are relatively simple, yet incredibly effective. The drum work on songs like “Don’t Make Me Cry” and “Bittersweet” is seducingly smooth. The dynamics of the snare rimshots and ghost notes are otherworldly, creating a perfect way to emphasize the parts of songs that are truly meant to grab your attention. The guitar work is also jazzy, but has some funk behind it, especially on one of my favorite tracks on the LP, “Can’t Fight”. This song has a speedy and attention-grabbing guitar riff that has cemented itself in a corner of my brain since the first listen, and has not yet left. The lyrics are simple yet meaningful, describing the grace period of a relationship and not being able to hold back the feelings Lianne so clearly describes for this person. The delivery is quick-witted with Lianne’s powerful voice taking the track by storm, almost commanding that she be heard. This is a common theme throughout the record. Her voice holds so much weight over the instrumentals she has so wisely chosen that every song feels like a bold statement that is dying to be heard, even if the lyrics don’t reflect that same immediate importance. This isn’t to say the lyrics aren’t well written, but with the exception of “Sour Flower” and “Paper Thin”, the lyrics tend to hold a similar theme of lovesickness or the blissful periods of a romantic relationship.
Lianne also takes a run at a classic Radiohead track with her rendition of “Weird Fishes”. I personally enjoy her version of the song more than the original, as her voice fits the restrained vocal melodies that Thom Yorke originally came up with, but Lianne provides her own unique spin on it. The track has the same guitar line, with a half-time drum beat that adds a whole new layer of soul to the instrumental and leaving more room for Lianne to experiment with her vocals. If the original track isn’t pure musical bliss, Lianne’s version sure is. Nearly every track on the record is a highlight, whether it be the aforementioned “Don’t Make Me Cry”, which may have the catchiest hook on the entire record, or “Sour Flower”, which has potential to be my favorite song of the year. This song feels like taking back your life when someone else has been controlling it. It feels as though Lianne is realizing that she is her own person, like she has been under a spell that she has suddenly broken away from. The lyrics on the track are powerful, and truly reflect the rebellious nature of the song. On the back half of the track, Lianne sings “I have been waiting for the fog to drift away, letting the light in, now I’m getting stronger every day”, and this track makes you feel the same way Lianne describes feeling here.
The issues I do have with this record, which are few and far between, barely cut into my enjoyment of the album at all. The track “Green Papaya” is a bit long, and does get a little repetitive, but is nonetheless a sweet track about meaningful love between two people. The instrumental is a stripped back, reverb-soaked acoustic track, and I do have to commend Chris Tabron for the mixing here, amongst others. Despite the fact the song gets a bit repetitive, everything does seem to be in the correct place sonically. The version of the record on Spotify also has the track “Bittersweet” on it twice, with two different mixes, but it isn’t that way on the vinyl record, so I don’t feel as though I need to take away points for that either. Apart from a few passages that can feel a bit strung out, this album feels close to perfect to me.
Lianne La Havas is a record that exemplifies all that is right with the beauty of the human voice. It can evoke every emotion under the sun. Love, sadness, happiness, and confidence are all on grand display here, and I truly admire the power Lianne holds with her voice. Tracks like “Seven Times” and “Paper Thin” are so rich and smooth, despite Lianne not making any major vocal strides on them. Her voice manages to completely capture me without any real effort, and when she does make an effort to convey strong power and emotion, it is nothing short of perfection. I love this record, and I truly think Lianne is one of the most special artists I have heard in recent years.