Over a decade ago, La Roux — then an English music act consisting of Elly Jackson and Ben Langmaid — released their explosive debut album “La Roux” (2009). It produced “Bulletproof” and “In For The Kill” arguably two of the biggest pop songs of the 21st century. And what did the duo do after such a smashing success? They went on a five-year hiatus, during which Langmaid left and Jackson took on La Roux as a solo act. Thank goodness she did — the cold and brassy sound of La Roux’s debut was popular in the moment but had very little longevity.
Now, after La Roux’s second album “Trouble in Paradise” (2014), Jackson is back with “Supervision” (2020). The gaps between the three albums’ releases are notable — it’s been a tough time to be a La Roux fan. For fans who fell in love with “Trouble in Paradise” and all of its sunny, vacation-in-the-Caribbean warmth, the wait for Jackson’s third album has been excruciating. But “Supervision” is here and it’s certainly good.
The album follows down the same lazy river as “Trouble in Paradise”: colorful 1980s tunes, disco and plenty of guitars and quirky beats — like “International Woman of Leisure” — all flood the 42-minute runtime. It’s quite a nice listen. The tracks blend well together and feel like a nice long concert (“Trouble in Paradise” felt similar, but there were a few breaks from the funky synth-pop). “Supervision” has no breaks. It’s back-to-back jams.
This is good and bad. The great thing about “Trouble in Paradise” — and what made it one of the best albums of the 2010s — was Jackson’s ability to create a permeable state between sexy fun on the beach and sad tears in the motel room. There was a vulnerability to “Trouble in Paradise” that only got better with age. At first glance, “Supervision” doesn’t have that same honesty, despite Jackson noting that this album is her journey to seeing clearly. Jackson’s probably talking about her personal troubles, but the album still doesn’t feel like a journey. If it is one, then it’s a drive on a summer day in a convertible Pontiac Firebird without a GPS or map: the vibe is there, but where are we going?
It’s not clear. “Trouble in Paradise” felt like a drive with a destination. “Supervision” goes but it’s unclear where. Where’s the edge? Much of the substance is repetitive or surface level; the album invites us to learn more about where Jackson has been the past six years but doesn’t tell us. And that’s frustrating. For fans who’ve listened and relistened to her previous two albums, starving for something new, this new release is certainly a great meal. But La Roux’s been cooking it up in the kitchen for way too long — we expect more from her.
It’s not as though “Supervision” is bad (Jackson would have to try really hard to make bad music). It’s full of earworms and wonderful songs. “21st Century” is a great opener with a catchy chorus and “Everything I Live For” is funky and glimmering. “Automatic Driver” certainly feels like a twin sister of “Sexotheque” from “Trouble in Paradise.” “He Rides” has a cool feel that sounds like a Frankenstein’s monster of La Roux’s previous two albums. “Gullible Fool” is a seven-minute track with a bopping outro. It’s all very slinky and sexy and great. But the album could’ve been so much more than great additions to a summertime playlist.
And that’s the problem. Fans will want to love “Supervision.” And they should! It’s new La Roux music and it’s good. Jackson will perform it live and it’ll be wonderful. But where does the album go after its release? Does it cease to exist as listeners add their few favorite songs from it and forget about the rest? Surely some of its singles will find some love across various streaming platforms, but Jackson deserves so much more. When she’s at her best, she makes cohesive albums that need to be listened to in full; in order to experience what La Roux is trying to get at, not a single song of hers can be skipped. “Supervision” feels less crafted than that.
Despite this, “Supervision” vibes well and hits all the marks to be a great listen. Jackson’s lyrics are catchy and her beats are danceable. “Supervision” is great right now, but it’ll be exciting — and potentially exhausting — to wait and see what Jackson has up her sleeve next. And while we’ll be playing this album this summer on beaches with cocktails in our hands, let’s hope we don’t have to wait until the mid-2020s for another La Roux release.