Originally written and published by me for PopMatters.
A decade ago, Elly Jackson was flying high. As the face of La Roux—originally a duo consisting of Jackson and record producer Ben Langmaid, and now Jackson’s solo stage name—she achieved two international hits with “In for the Kill” and “Bulletproof” and gained popularity for her 1980s new wave nostalgia cosplay: both in look and in sound. The group ushered in a brief era of nostalgia for ‘80s synthpop, most visible on their self-titled debut album from 2009.
But the sailing wasn’t as smooth thereafter: their label hinted at new releases in both 2012 and 2013, but nothing materialized. At the time, Jackson claimed she wasn’t going to stop writing new songs until they had something that could compete with their biggest hits. And while Langmaid does receive some songwriting credit on La Roux’s follow-up album Trouble in Paradise from 2014, the album’s title correctly alludes to troubles backstage.
Langmaid had reportedly left the group in 2012, leaving Jackson to both finish the record and continue on as a solo act. The troubles didn’t end there, either. Jackson then left the group’s label, Polydor, and scrapped songs she had spent three years developing. She also grappled with losing her singing voice, an undiagnosed loss of the falsetto that helped propel “Bulletproof” to hit status. Jackson ended up launching her independent label, Supercolour Records, which has released La Roux’s third studio album Supervision. It’s first in over five years, her first without any contribution from Langmaid, and her first without a major record label.
If “In for the Kill” and “Bulletproof” were supposedly the blueprint for La Roux, that notion was certainly dismantled by Trouble in Paradise, which retained the group’s sharp, synth-fueled production while adding some more somber, laidback new wave and disco elements. Jackson continues that and more on Supervision, which is probably the most ‘80s influenced La Roux has ever been. From the deep synth base beats, to the disco and Britpop-influenced song titles and lyrics, to the noticeably long track lengths and thus shorter track listing. If there was anyone who believed that there was no La Roux without Ben Langmaid, that notion is dismantled now as well.
On Supervision, Jackson is at her strongest, both sonically and vocally. She has, for lack of a better term, found her groove: from the pulsing disco rhythms on “Do You Feel” to the synthpop breakup anthem “Gullible Fool,” La Roux is once again proving that there’s still an audience and a market for music that is fuelled by nostalgic sounds. The album even brings to mind the ‘80s throwback sounds explored by Carly Rae Jepsen’s last two albums which, if their popularity among the gay community is any indication, 1980s synthpop will always have a place in many listeners’ hearts, no matter what their age, race, gender, or sexuality.
In our current streaming era of pop music, artists are known to be constantly releasing singles and collaborations and never being quite off the grid musically. Supervision reminds us that there’s value in taking your time and not releasing your next album until the time is right, even if it’s been over five years since your last. Unburdened by the loss of her partner during production as well as the somewhat more freeing path of releasing music independently, La Roux’s latest record is a testament to propelling forward (even if its sounds take you backward), pursuing what sets your soul on fire, and knowing that good synthpop will never go out of style.
Jeffrey’s favorites from Supervision: “Do You Feel,” “Automatic Driver,” “Everything I Live For,” and “Gullible Fool”