Since she emerged on the scene four years ago with the aptly titled “New in Town,” critics have been quick (and lazy) to compare the flaxen-haired Victoria Hesketh to Madonna. But she lacks the personality and blond ambition that catapulted Madge to superstardom in the ’80s, and Hesketh’s debut as Little Boots, Hands, recalled Kylie Minogue, Annie, and a host of other female pop singers indebted to the Queen of Pop rather than the icon herself. So it’s surprising to discover that Little Boots’ sophomore effort, Nocturnes, is peppered with songs like “Confusion,” which—melodically, lyrically, and vocally—would fit perfectly on any latter-day Madonna album, and the rollicking dance track “Broken Record,” which even employs one of Madge’s favorite lyrical pastimes of quoting a past hit (in this case, Hesketh’s “Stuck on Repeat”).
Nocturnes also features collaborations with the kind of below-ground producers—DFA co-founder Tim Goldsworthy, Andy Butler of Hercules and Love Affair, and James Ford of Simian Mobile Disco—Madonna would be keen to shack up with at this stage in her career. If the strength of Hands was its variety, Nocturnes’s is its consistency, with a more focused attention on electronic dance music. Opening track “Motorway” pairs the time-honored theme of escape from a small town with cool synth pads and a subtly propulsive undercurrent, reprised later in the album on the coolly futuristic “Strangers.”
The ’80s is a decided touchstone, from the sliced-and-diced vocals of “Every Night I Say a Prayer” to the electro-Kate-Bush hook of “All for You,” but the album stumbles slightly when it directly apes past dance subgenres rather than slyly nodding to them within the context of a more contemporary EDM sound: The elastic bassline of “Beat Beat” references disco too directly, while the generic house beats of “Shake” would quickly grow tired if the song weren’t so irresistibly listenable. And Hesketh’s shrewd choice of collaborators is often squandered on rather rudimentary song structures and lyrical ideas. That doesn’t make Nocturnes any less enjoyable of a dance-pop album, but it’s ultimately what will keep Little Boots from becoming the next Madonna, or the next Robyn for that matter.