2020 marks six years since androgynous synth-pop icon, Elly Jackson’s, last record, Trouble in Paradise, a perfect slice of synth and steel drums that dealt with heartbreak and infidelity. La Roux’s latest album (of which Jackson is now the sole member following writing partner Ben Langmaid’s departure in 2014), Supervision is much of the same, only doubling down on the synth and with more catchy tunes.
Supervision begins with ‘21st Century’, a strong opener with trademark high notes from Jackson and a sound somewhere in the middle of La Roux’s previous two efforts. It’s a good number with a hopeful message, ‘When the 21st Century’s gone, we hold on, movin’ on…’, though after first listen one wonders if perhaps one of the album’s three singles would have made a bolder first track. Nevertheless, it’s our first taste of the album besides those, and a good one at that.
‘Do You Feel’ features more of the same funky opening with catchy backbeat, but remains elusive throughout. It feels almost like a track of two parts. The first is groovy but, in all honesty, nothing notable given the pink-tinged synthcloud it finds itself engulfed in. The second half however, centered on a deliberate repetition of a few catchy lines, makes for simplistic heaven. It’s an anthem in it’s own right, as La Roux poses us, ‘Do you feel like a man in the morning, but you feel like a woman at night?’. Is it about gender, sexuality, or a broken relationship? Who knows, but who cares? It sounds great.
‘Automatic Driver’ was the final single released, and probably the album’s best track, in truth. The first two singles enticed me, but this one cemented its sound. Yet again on the theme of heartbreak and being independent, ‘Driver’ gives us a strong, if simple, chorus, building over time until it’s a sonic battering ram of infection.
The first glimpse of new material, ‘International Woman of Leisure’ was welcome, driven with a vibe of independence on the open road, with driving backbeat that stomps hard. Never before has the word ‘International’, either, felt more worthy, with La Roux now quite the icon, taking the album’s tour all over the world. It’s a standout track for sure.
‘Everything I Live For’ took a while to grow on me – as a fair few tracks did – but it’s a good beat. It’s no ‘Automatic Driver’ or ‘IWL’ but it doesn’t fall too far short. ‘Otherside’ boasts a more notable opening with some guitar, but still remains one of the more forgettable tracks of the piece as a whole. Ordinarily this wouldn’t be a big deal, but on a record of only eight tracks, every one needs to be firing on all cylinders. It’s not bad, though.
The penultimate track, ‘He Rides’ is fairly mediocre by La Roux standards; good but nothing special, again slowly building over the course of the song. The ending, whilst eye-rollingly simple and cheesy, is pretty darn catchy, however, and one that’s bound to fill your mind for a while.
‘Gullible Fool’ saves the last half of the album from being somewhat of a lackluster show. It begins slow and quickly bursts into a catchy crescendo of synth pop. At seven minutes, it’s the longest track on the album by far, beating even Trouble in Paradise’s ‘Silent Partner’ (though not quite as good). ‘Gullible Fool’ is a standout part of La Roux’s whole career.
With only eight tracks, Supervision remains above the forty-minute mark, with not a single track falling short of four. Sometimes this shows in repetitive half-words or a song simply running its course two thirds of the way in, but a lot of the time it proves to be exactly what we want – more of the catchy ‘do-do’s. This album took a little while to grow on me (unlike La Roux’s first two efforts) but after a while, I found my desire for a needlessly complex return to die away, replaced with that same old adoration of simple synth-pop. La Roux masters her field here, with meaningful lyrics masked in contagious albums. It’s a record that deals with finding your way again, moving on from the past and being exactly what you can be.
Supervision should never be written off a simple pop album, and La Roux should never fall victim to the same tag. She is so much more.