Blood. It can evolve, it can regress. It’s also a fitting title for the second album from British singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas, a musician whose own career is being analysed as if she were a specimen in a test tube. The approval of Prince can attract all manner of negative opinions it appears. Those fortunate to have discovered La Havas through her Mercury-nominated debut album Is Your Love Big Enough? will rightly take exception to claims that she is “awaiting” stardom. She’s stepped out to present another side to herself with Blood, an album that blossoms even though it isn’t a total evolution.
That said, for some, the halcyon serenade of La Havas’s voice on another full-length will be all they need hear. Her voice alone, with no instrumentation or production trickery, is so sublime that she could make doing your tax return sound enticing. And she hasn’t lost her panache for lyrics that live long in the mind (“I’ve been saving up my time so I can spend it all on you”).
The premise of Blood actually relates to La Havas’s Jamaican and Greek heritage. Her more recent visit to the former, to meet her distant family, has influenced the record unexpectedly. Though even if you didn’t know that talk of “ancient stones” in the abstract Green & Gold is a nod to her Greek bloodline, the quivering guitar melody under a collage of colourful trumpets and percussion gives it an unusual, highly absorbing, inflection.
This is an all-together funkier La Havas than her previous incarnation as the lone phoenix rising from the ashes of a painful break-up. You can feel that in Unstoppable, the astral, firecracker of slow-soaked funk which opens the album. And in What You Don’t Do, where bellowing verses, choral harmonies and a finely polished backing rhythm, by producer Matt Hales (who also worked on her debut), make for the most pop-friendly song to La Havas’s credit to date.
Unfortunately, this move towards a more pop template has caused Blood to fall foul of what some might refer to as ‘second album syndrome’. As delicate as it is, Tokyo is a predictable song about a star yearning for closeness while on tour. Production for the most part is subtle, but listen to Never Get Enough live, and then the album version, and you’re reminded, for all the Yeah Yeah Yeahs-style multi-layering, La Havas is often more affecting without it. Finally, the concept of heritage plays very little part in this record. What it’s predominantly about is love in a new phase of life. But, unlike her debut, Blood lacks a sense of wholehearted oneness.
Still, you have to admire La Havas: musically, Blood is a mercurial fusion of sounds at a time when the label ‘singer-songwriter’ has never been more rigid as an overused term for guitar-playing musicians. La Havas the guitarist is here, strumming delectable melodies that beg to be repeated late into the evening (Midnight). Yet, by incorporating a buffet of influences, from Prince and Erykah Badu, to Neneh Cherry and Jill Scott, she has taken herself – and the listener – out of this oversubscribed musical comfort zone. Surely, that’s what growth is about?
Blood by Lianne La Havas can be ordered here.