Posters for Lianne La Havas's new album are plastered all over London's East End right now. The pink posters of La Havas staring straight ahead, hands folded in a long-sleeved navy dress with impeccable natural curls are almost as entrancing as the album they advertise.
La Havas's new album, Blood, released stateside on July 31, is a rhythmically assertive, roller coaster of emotion that rises and falls through states of euphoria and deep sadness. As a sophomore album from 25-year-old La Havas, it has a mature quality that moves the artist out of the youth of her 2012 debut album Is Your Love Big Enough?
Songs like "Green & Gold" have R&B undertones reminiscent of Beyoncé's most recent album. La Havas is, after all, trying to make the transition to worldwide availability.
"Six years old/staring at my nose in the mirror/ Trying to dip my toes in the mirror/ Thinking 'Who's that girl?'/ and 'does the mirror world go on forever?'" La Havas sings on "Green & Gold." It's atransporting question of grappling with identity and growing up as a woman of color in the world. It's a moment that reminds us that La Havas, at 25, still has a fair amount of growing to do.
Some of her songs swell into a crescendo with rhythms that are entrancing and a vocal quality that soothes and builds, but those rhythms never seem to break. Unlike her debut album, on Blood, La Havas often struggles to reach the peak of her ability— both vocally and sonically.
There are songs on this album, though, that seem to show a clear path of La Havas's future as a singer and songwriter. Tracks like the unbelievably groovy and swelling "What You Don't Do" have highs and lows that characterize the singer as both a master of her a vocal abilities and a master of the emotional changes of life.
"I know you love me I don't need proof," La Havas spits out in rapid fire, only to follow immediately with a rocketing vocal climb, saying "don't tell the whole world/ just wanna be your girl." It's a contrast that La Havas may be able to build and transform into a very distinctive style on her next album.
This, though, is a big departure from La Havas's critically acclaimed and highly beloved debut album, which took its time building and confiding in her audience. Some of her stronger early songs like "Lost & Found," are slower, more melodic, and at times far more emotional than anything on this sophomore album. That's part of what made Is Your Love Big Enough? such a refreshing debut.
But that subtlety, beautiful as it was, isn't enough to sustain an artist in the current music market. La Havas needed fire to build her career into a place where she could stand under the spotlight, even for a few minutes. As big of a shame as it is that she must make that transition to stay relevant, La Havas has found room on Blood to do it in her own way.
On songs like "Tokyo," La Havas manages to maintain her slow build and inject it with the rhythmic backing beats and a gripping, catchy chorus that brings it from folk and soul into a pop limelight.
That's the truth of this album, it seems — even with Blood's weak spots, Lianne La Havas is a girl with the word star all over her. She's made a sophomore album that is pure, beautiful, and truly different pop music. Her sound shifts between rhythms we know from soul and folk, and perfect pop song structure with catchy hooks. It's a brilliant decision for her career, and a great choice for her sound.
"We are unstoppable," La Havas sings on the lead track of the album. We may not be unstoppable, but La Havas certainly is.
Kelsey McKinney is a culture staff writer for Fusion.