Lianne La Havas’s newest album, a self-titled record of anthems and lullabies, is perfectly representative of herself as an artist. The collection of 12 songs firmly defines her ingenuity as a singer-songwriter, encapsulating her chameleonic musical aptitude through the ebb and flow of a lilting guitar. Even in the most brash and declarative moments on the album, La Havas’s supreme control and calm when navigating the most climactic emotions is an astounding feat.
In the past, you could have compared her to a lot of fellow soulful singer-songwriters, but with this release, the musician has pushed herself to the highest echelon of creativity. Lianne La Havas is the distillation of years in the business for the singer, and her dues have finally been paid — you can feel her heart in each word, reaching out for you to join her in a closer look at life, love and all the gray confusion in between.
In the five years since La Havas’s last full-length release, Blood, our world has been turned upside down and inside out in every way imaginable. The singer captures this chaos within the bubble of her own experience, creating a case study in turmoil, emotional and physical, matched with the incredible beauty of her songwriting. Letting the waves of life roll over her, La Havas does not shy away from darkness or honesty throughout the record, providing her listener with a prismatic view of a love affair gone sickly-sweet.
On “Bittersweet,” the brightest point of the album, La Havas counters the raspy sensuality of each verse with a euphoric embrace of the refrain’s melancholy. “No more hanging around,” she sings, and the lilting guitar bursts forward into an explosion of percussion, vocals reaching new heights. Slower, more introspective tracks like “Green Papaya” and “Paper Thin” add a diary-like quality to the record, offering the listener insight into the intimate moments of her life.
Beyond anything else, La Havas’s newest material depicts the push and pull of self-doubt in striking clarity, whether it is an irresistible love in “Can’t Fight” or the flirtatious questioning of “Read My Mind.” The songwriter’s woven melodies and shifting chord structure illustrate the slippery slope of love just as well as her lyrics, mediating the outside world’s frenzy with a spiraling interiority of her own. But despite the status of these songs in limbo between her brain and a potential audience, La Havas still feels grounded in an awareness of herself. Even on the brink of losing herself in the music, the singer always pulls back to reality, showing us how beautiful it can really be.
Listening to Lianne La Havas is like taking a Magic-School-Bus-style journey into the innermost memories of the album’s creator, as snippets of joy and frustration peek through mellow soundscapes. She makes everything her own, highlighting new facets of covers like Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes” with a level of class and meticulous arrangement that has become her trademark. The record percolates La Havas’s thoughts and emotions through a filter of musical wisdom only she could provide.
Though this is La Havas’s third record, in many ways it seems like a reclamation of self, a debut-do-over of sorts. With this release, the songwriter consistently redefines the unique style that put her on the map in the first place — her skilled blues guitar, cheeky British vocalizations and soulful lyrics — with a more mature and lived-in perspective. It’s almost like we’re meeting her all over again, and it’s a joy to experience.