For those of you who perhaps spent the first month of this year in some kind of sound-proof chamber without access to the internet, radio or television and with no magazines to placate the boredom, a brief history of Little Boots is required.
So here it is. 25-year-old Blackpool native, Victoria Hesketh, leaves electro outfit Dead Disco, writes song with Kylie Minogue in mind (Stuck On Repeat, co-produced with Joe Goddard from Hot Chip), wins BBC Sound of 2009 poll, is runner-up to Florence And The Machine for Critics Choice award at the BRITs (whatever that is), goes off to record album in LA with Greg Kurstin (yes, him again), small backlash ensues.
The latter element tells us all we need to know about the culture of fast returns that has been created by the frenzy of lists and critics’ predictions that heralds each passing year. For Little Boots, the crux of the matter seems to come down to whether she’s pop in a Girls Aloud / Sugababes / Kylie sense, or ‘cool’ and ‘credible’ in the same way Róisín Murphy or Peaches are. That the latter usually comes with minimal album sales and given the pressure winning the BBC Poll creates, it’s hardly surprising that Hands is a well-crafted, glorious pop record.
To be fair, Hesketh herself has always maintained that her aim is to create fun, crowd-pleasing pop songs that connect with as many people as possible. Weirdly, early reviews seem surprised at just how instant the songs are, with choruses the size of tidal waves. Those still unsure of where Little Boots fits on the whole pop scale need only listen once to Remedy, the fifth track on her debut. Over roaring, stuttering synths, a simple verse is suddenly stemmed by a gigantic chorus that explodes from nowhere, only to be followed swiftly by another. It’s probably the best Eurovision song we’ve never had and could easily sit at Number 1 for months; it’s at this point that Hands might shed the pretentious few.
It’s their loss. Meddle, Stuck On Repeat and Mathematics – already available in various forms – sound even better in the context of the album, Goddard’s vibrant production on the Timbaland-aping Meddle a particular highlight. In fact, if there is a slight criticism of Hands it’s that it all sounds a bit too polished, with producer Kurstin occasionally diluting the impact not only of the songs but also of Hesketh’s vocals.
Although she has more range than, say, La Roux‘s Elly Jackson, her voice can sometimes get lost amongst the polished beats and swathes of vintage keyboards. It doesn’t help that the lyrics, usually dealing with the problems of love and relationships, can fall into cliché, especially on closer No Brakes.
But these are radio-friendly singles in waiting. New In Town – all Goldfrapp-esque synth stabs – is a real grower, whilst the icy Tune Into My Heart and the Phil Oakey duet Symmetry could both wind up in the Top 5. Even when the songs fail to initially snag your attention, as on Click or the oddly jaunty Ghosts, they still contain choruses as infectious as ebola.
Hands is an album best avoided by those labouring under the misconception that pop is somehow a dirty word. Rather then shy away behind tricksy, overtly difficult melodies or instrumentation, Little Boots has created a pop record in the truest sense of the word; not only does it fizz by in no time at all, it also doesn’t alienate or discriminate. For a debut album created in the most part under the scrutiny of hype morphing into the beginnings of an unnecessary backlash, Hands is a brilliant album and a benchmark for the other 2009 debuts.