I’m pretty sure that years in the music world work like dog years. You disappear for twelve months and everything seems to have changed. It’s a given then that five years is an eternity. Rewind back to 2015 and Fetty Wap and Silento were in a heated race to see who would take over the world. If you looked more carefully, you’d also see British singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas release her second album, Blood. The follow-up to this album was five years of studio silence, finally broken with the release of this new self-titled follow-up, one whose sparse presentation allows Lianne’s voice to take precedence in her most focused project to date.
As Lianne has said in interviews, this is the first of her albums that has a real story to it. The story, spelled out in the form of a sentence, is one we’ve heard before. Infatuation leads to love leads to complications leads to collapse leads to a lesson learned. Yet, this story never gets old to us, especially when it’s told through a narrator like Lianne, whose comforting voice is somehow equally like a warm hug and a cold glass of water. Lianne La Havas sounds like a CD that would be in your mom’s car, in the best way possible. Even the first name Lianne seems to fit this aesthetic – I think of iced tea for some reason.
“Read My Mind” sees Lianne finding joy and mindfulness in the initial stages of a new fling, fully aware of the irrationality of a line like, “Could make a baby tonight/Throw my life away, oh I’ll die another day.” She’s able to project a genuine, wholesome excitement through lines like these and not resort to SahBabii levels of creative horny.
“Green Papaya” is when Lianne begins to long for something more than a physical connection, singing of her desire for “real love,” of which she’s fully aware the unsexiness. In the album’s first half, each of these new stages is fleshed out in its own song, and each feels truly distinct from the other lyrically, even if for the most part the folk-inspired soul production remains in similar territory. She doesn’t give more weight to any one stage of the journey, appreciating each part of it for what it is. With five years to create and reflect, this level-headedness gives the album a sense of balance and emotional maturity.
“Paper Thin” may be the most intimate track on the album, the lyrics focusing on Lianne’s attempt to tiptoe her way through to an emotionally damaged person. Lianne’s raspy delivery in the chorus is incredibly powerful, and mirrors her uncertainty toward how she’ll find a way to make this work. An ethereal interlude separates the album emotionally into halves, bringing more and more strife to Lianne in the second half as this budding relationship decays.
Side B also brings the long-awaited studio version of her cover of Radiohead’s “Weird Fishes,” which she’s performed during her live sets for years. On standout track “Courage,” Lianne is insulated inside a nest of swirling guitars as she laments her feelings of loneliness. She feels removed of her agency, painting courage as something outside of herself, something that can only be lucked into.
Lianne makes an interesting choice in framing the album between two versions of the album’s lead single, “Bittersweet.” Sandwiched together, this choice shows the cyclical nature of love, the steps repeated with each new person. Even though the album’s production isn’t the most diverse, it’s hardly one-note. “Seven Times” has the most R&B influence out of any other track, and finds a unique groove through some great, layered percussion.
I know that it’s foolish and arguably ill-advised to feel like you know an artist you have never met, but it’s still fun to do so. In looking at Lianne’s interviews, lyrics, and general disposition, a word pops to my mind that she and her music fall under. Lovely. This album is just very lovely, and it’s full of gratitude for the past, as messy as it may sometimes be. It doesn’t reinvent any wheels, it’s just very, very lovely.