Published Jul 29, 2015Blood seems like an odd title for Lianne La Havas' sophomore album. One's immediate word associations veer to the macabre, to violence, to pain, to maybe loss. But of course, blood is also what drives us; it's the proof of our lineage, the ineradicable lubricant of a working heart and mind. It's in that context that the London singer/songwriter's title choice begins to make sense, and also encourages us to explore deeper themes across the record.
The two initial singles, "Unstoppable" and "What You Don't Do," are both celebratory proclamations of the promise and power in coupledom. The former is a jazzy R&B number that only utilizes La Havas' guitar work for background flourishes (it's also one of the few songs she puts the guitar away for during performances). Similarly, "What You Don't Do" favours marching piano semiquavers as she rejects the need for grand gestures to validate romance. The videos for both songs depict the artist by herself, comfortable and carefree in her solitude, owning her role as a performer in a way we haven't seen before.
She complements that presentation with a newfound sense of identity, one that is most conspicuously alluded to in the song "Green & Gold." In interviews preceding this release, La Havas cited her recent trip to her grandmother's home in Kingston, Jamaica as the inspiration for a re-examining of her family bloodlines. In the song, which sports a guitar-led walking groove that La Havas co-produced with Jamie Lidell, she reflects on her Greek and Jamaican heritage, London upbringing, and goes from questioning to concluding who she is as a person and as an artist.
Thematically, the aforementioned songs are somewhat outliers on Blood. Much of the album deals with lost love, the resulting pain and subsequent alone time. Here, La Havas returns to the gentle strumming and strong melodic structures we've come to associate with her. "Ghosts" is finds her stripped to only a single guitar and faint background vocals as haunting as the title suggests. That motif of unforgotten fondness over subtle guitar work is later taken to new heights on the string-led ballad "Good Goodbye," a song both brilliant in its honest songwriting and grandiose execution.
But with such hits, the misses are more self-evident. "Never Not Enough" begins with bossa nova inclinations only to be interrupted by Yeezus-like sawtooth synth patches, a risk that probably wasn't worth taking. "Wonderful" is a sleepy lullaby without a redeeming build. "Grow" is actually delightfully anthemic, but feels repetitive following the similarly anthemic, horn-swelled "Midnight." Both are also natural successors to "Forget," the song that introduced La Havas' poised edge to many of us.
At ten tracks, Blood is a more focused and refined effort than 2012's Mercury Prize-nominated Is Your Love Big Enough?, building on what we've come to expect from Lianne La Havas and surprising us with new directions. More than anything, she's now proven she's able to step out from behind the guitar and deliver great songs without a care for genre margins. (Warner)