La Roux singer Elly Jackson’s ‘do (the most attention-starved hair in pop music since Axl Rose sported dreadlocks) might seem like a stunt, but it’s the first insight into the kind of music made by this synth-pop duo: frosty, uniquely British, deliberately affected, and anything but casual (how does one have sex in that hair?). The most infectious single off their self-titled debut, “Bulletproof,” is about the fierce powers of female resistance (“I won’t let you in again…This time baby I’ll be bulletproof”), but it could also be an ode to titanium-grade hairspray.
La Roux is all hard synths and steely drums, a shielded sound that’s reflected in Jackson’s voice. Like her fellow Mercury Prize nominee Bat for Lashes, she has a knack for primal screams that’s reminiscent of the Cranberries without ever becoming cloying. Whether she’s putting up her defenses (“My reflections are protections/They will keep me from destruction”) or pursuing the object of her desire (“I’m going in for the kill”), her relentless pipes match her and co-producer Ben Langmaid’s aggressive ‘80s-inspired pop music beat for beat.
It’s no surprise that the indie set—and the Mercury Prize panel—have taken more quickly to La Roux than someone like Little Boots, who takes herself a lot less seriously (New York Magazine described one performance as “endearingly clumsy”) and whose music is also a lot more fun to listen to for that reason. (The same rules don’t apply to Bat for Lashes, whose ethereal, tribal chants transcend the “pop” label altogether.) Only a band like La Roux that explicitly cites Molly Ringwald as a style influence could be both so transfixing and slightly irksome: When, on “Armour Love,” Jackson complains to a lover, “You put up defenses,” the hypocrisy is on level with the sellout ending of Pretty in Pink.
But oddly, it’s the band’s attempts at vulnerability (“Cover My Eyes”) that make for the most insipid listens. Like that frozen hair, the sheer force of La Roux‘s best songs steel themselves against pretty boys as well as petty criticisms. At the end of the day, this is just good pop music. Jackson gets it right on “In for the Kill,” when she breaks the heart of her would-be boyfriend by telling him what every dance floor starlet knows: “I’m doing it for the thrill.”