Lianne La Havas’ voice is incredible. Whether it’s exploding outwards with colour or exploring the inner depths of the soul, it’s a magnetic force. ‘Is Your Love Big Enough?’ and ‘Blood’ showed its transcendent range and caught even the ear of Prince. After 5 years almost out of the spotlight entirely, La Havas hasn’t lost any of that power.
On her third album, ‘Lianne La Havas’ feels like a reintroduction to one of the most exciting voices of the 2010s where lightness is the key to success. On ‘Paper Thin’, La Havas sounds like she’s constantly on the verge of breaking as she begs her partner to stay. You can practically hear the thump in her throat shift as she belts “Don’t go / ‘Cause I need you so”.
‘Green Papaya’ conjures a dreamy landscape that’s also endearingly corny. “Take me / home, let’s make real love” is awkward in that early fumbling stages of love way. If this had taken the more epic route of lead single ‘Bittersweet’, it might’ve fallen flat. But, when it’s delivered with just her voice and her guitar, there’s an odd beauty that makes it feel so earnest. It’s a similar case with ‘Courage’. “I lose my head / every time we speak / so I sing instead” has a charming naivety to it when paired with a fluttering whistled melody and almost ghostly synths.
There are stand-outs in the more rhythmically adventurous songs too, particularly on ‘Seven Times’ which shuffles along with a Latin rhythm and the welcome addition of a jazzy flute outro. And, while not wild in its interpretation, her decision to cover Radiohead’s ‘Weird Fishes/Arpeggi’ is an interesting one.
This usually frenetic track gets cut down to its core elements to begin with; the ghostly, metaphor-laden vocals and a much simpler version of the original’s arpeggiated riff. The feeling of circling a drain is missing, but then it explodes along with La Havas’ voice. While it doesn’t add a whole lot to the original, it does add plenty of narrative to the record as a whole.
It’s just a shame, then, that ‘Weird Fishes’ highlights what’s sometimes lacking on ‘Lianne La Havas’. Her voice has an emotive power that can evoke both Nina Simone and Erykah Badu, rarely showboating yet always impactful. It means ‘Lianne La Havas’ is never dull. But her lyrics just don’t take those same risks. It feels almost too polite. There are none of the elegant metaphors of ‘Wonderful’, that are almost as knotty as her guitar chords, or the sweet romance of ‘Au Cinema’. Just a wish that La Havas would really let loose.