Review: Katy B - Little Red
I guess Katy B isn't all that old. She is 24, which in the scheme of things is still a baby. But in another way, she's at least 5 years removed from those tumultous teenage times that seem to litter her music. When On A Mission was released in 2011, it was seen as a wonderful fusion of London club culture. It blended R&B, EDM, pop, rave and house music in a concise package that presented beautifully. Something like Katy On A Mission was Lily Allen on ecstasy, and Lights On was the embodiment of a night out for a newly minted 20 year old just desperate to find the nearest good time.
Pop music hasn't moved thematically in a long time. There's a very good reason for this. Going out on a Friday and Saturday night is the same song and dance as it was a decade ago, and hasn't diversified much since the turn of the millenium. The names may have changed, but the boozy haze is the same. The floors are still sticky, the clubs still smell like stale alcohol and the lights still come on at the end of the night. So the fact that we've waited 3 years for a new Katy B record isn't devastating. In her down time she's observed fellow Brits scoring goals everywhere, whether it be to the detriment of her cultivated lushness of sound or to its benefit. Dizzee Rascal released a record so far removed from his roots it felt cheap. Disclosure introduced a more muted version of the EDM high of the late oos, and AlunaGeorge have found success with cutesy vocals mixed with electro-nous. Katy B may not have had too many local contemporaries when she left the scene, but her return sees her amongst company.
There's no out and out club thrasher on Little Red. That's always the first thing to search for. The first single, 5AM, appeals directly to her key demographic. A considered throb of bassline meets her vocals head on as she uses words like 'sick' and 'ill' to endear herself as more than the cool aunt. The chorus of "Ooh, I need somebody to calm me down / A little loving like Valium / I need somebody to knock me out" is straight out of the play book, all glitched electro haze and complete with resplendent early morning grogginess. Like the aftermath of Glastonbury, this is well trod ground.
Opener Next Thing is the most straight-laced club bait, produced by British up and comers The Invisible Men, with The Arcade, it presents as a clear and precise attack on the listener's current physical disposition. If you're in your seat, you're soon to be out of it. There's no real question of what Katy has been doing for the past 3 years. It appears splattered all over the record, a tale of late night trysts, forlorn loneliness, teenage lust and under-developed notions of love, and boozy encounters. On I Like You she delivers her sermon, "You think I learned from all those times my heart was crushed / Paid a victim of that appetite, that lust / Cause I want that feeling loving is that rush / Now I know why I really shouldn't play with fire" and you can't help but feel a little undernourished. The chorus is dangerously melodic, but there's not much more in it. On the very next song, she sings "I'll give you all my lovin'". On Emotions, 'There’s no stopping this / I’m craving what you give / Your love that takes me to the sky". You're never going to be overwhelmed more by a record as a 13 year old girl than you are with Little Red.
If this seems a tad harsh, we must denote what it is Katy is trying to do, the market she has tapped in to. British pop music is undergoing something of a period of flux. Whilst the true partygoers, the ones alluded to earlier, ask no more of their music than a strong beat and a repetitive chorus, a new2 market is emerging that consumes their music outside of the club setting. This now appears to be the key to hitting it big in the US. An act like Lorde, nowhere near as talented a singer as say Birdy, creates that perfect blend of down trodden R&B and bass heavy thump to be played at 9pm to get the party started, and again at 6am when the first of the Valium kicks in. On Little Red, it feels like Katy B is stuck between these two timeslots. The forgettable ballad Crying For No Reason aside, there just isn't enough music falling either side of this middle ground to endear her. The brilliant Aaliyah, with Jessie Ware, in which she explores that much displayed yet often ommitted emotion of jealousy, pounds with sticky foot promise, and houses her most mature work. Then there is the hidden beauty Play, with Sampha. Complex trickery on the production flips a childish fairground sound in to a workable beat, as Katy launches in to a metaphorical wonderland of instrumental terms to describe a burgeoning relationship, "Play me, pull my strings / Bring out a melody in me / Hear my heart it sings
All these words I need to say to you". There's such promise in these two songs, and her ability to create a catchy melody is rare and enviable, that we're left feeling a little hollow when the rest of the record treads down such a well worn path.
The Deluxe Edition, if you are lucky enough to be able to afford it, is wildly bloated. The extra 5 tracks add very little, except for the disappointing Stay Down, and all that adds is a reminder that she can't sing. Sky's The Limit is the pick, as she applies her tried and tested method of repetition to create a mildly catchy song. Save your extra $3 and buy Britney Spears' latest record from the discount bin.
Whilst Little Red is slightly more autobiographical than On A Mission, slightly more mature, slightly deeper in sound and slightly more intelligent in execution, it's slightly boring. I have a mate who says nothing good ever happens on a night out after 1am. Katy's music sits ever so close to this timeslot, and I tend to agree with him.