Five years removed from La Roux’s self-titled debut, time has revealed the album to be a fairly middling affair. Despite the massive summer thunderclap that was “Bulletproof,” there were few memorable takeaways from a work that, as Slant’s own Paul Schrodt hinted, often leaned toward the insipid. Indeed, the fact that Lazerproof, Major Lazer’s radically reworked interpretation of La Roux, is ultimately the more interesting version of the album speaks to the original’s lack of intriguing ideas.
La Roux (a.k.a. Elly Jackson) is a savvy artist though, as her sophomore album, Trouble in Paradise, is a much more balanced and consistent effort, precisely because she avoids churning out easy clones of her biggest hit. “Silent Partner” is an urgent midnight ride, percussion gunning like tiny pistons as Jackson convinces herself that all she needs is a little peace and quiet, even though the track’s nervous, queasy synths suggest otherwise. Most of Trouble in Paradise’s momentum, in fact, stems from Jackson’s detached urgency, a strangely intriguing combination of desperation and cooler-than-thou vocal delivery. Even on a song like “Uptight Downtown,” where Jackson warns listeners about a city on the verge of what can only be described as a dance riot, her voice isn’t so much panicked as it is velvety, languishing over the track’s lightly strummed guitars.
Trouble in Paradise stumbles, however, when Jackson abandons that low-key anxiety for just being low-key, and just as equally, her dance-pop sound for just pop. The thin-sounding “Cruel Sexuality” possesses a barely there beat that robs the track of any energy and exposes its unfinished quality. Likewise, trying her hand at sweeping ballads only nets Jackson the disjointed and equally underdeveloped “Paradise Is You,” a piano-based yawner that circles around itself like some saccharine Ouroboros as she rues the amount of control she’s ceded to her lover.
The album’s faults can be described similarly: When Trouble in Paradise loses its way, it’s because Jackson has traded in her frigid allure and commanding bellicosity for frailty and soft-heartedness, sentiments she doesn’t deliver with any sort of sincerity. Not only does that render most of Trouble in Paradise’s offerings anemic, but worse, somewhat disingenuous, making for an album with some very forgettable space in between a handful of bright spots.