Three years ago, British singer-songwriter Lianne La Havas released her fantastic debut LP at just 22 years old. Cheekily titled Is Your Love Big Enough?, the record aptly showcased her natural talent for polished and primped soul-infused guitar pop. But the crux of the album felt weak. Havas’ songwriting seemed to exist only in relation to a second party, an ex-lover, a current fling, an appropriately sized member. The time since her debut’s release has allotted this artist an opportunity to grow, to flourish as a strong, independent woman. On Lianne La Havas’ phenomenal follow-up album Blood, which was inspired by a re-examination of her Jamaican and Greek ancestry, she sings from a place of deep self-awareness. She still writes about love, but it’s treated more delicately. Instead, Blood‘s primary focus is an introspective one, showing Lianne La Havas coming to terms with her mind, her body, and her own newly realized sense of artistry.
At first glance, the most striking thing about Blood is how mature the record feels compared to its predecessor. Lead single and opening track “Unstoppable” interpolates the same beautifully arranged guitar figures and soaring vocal hooks that made Is Your Love so successful and exciting. Yet, this track is elegant in a way that its predecessor never achieved. It grows from a lulling whisper to a massive swirl of orchestral, jazz-addled funk. But this maximalist approach hardly carries over consistently throughout the album. The following number “Green & Gold,” is a slow, sauntering neo-soul cut that stays lean and lax during its four and a half minutes. Above a tight coil of languid rhythm, Havas sings about growing up, navigating the complicated avenues that lead to adulthood, and the importance of recognizing where you come from, “Six years old, staring at my nose in the mirror, trying to dip my toes in the mirror/ Thinking ‘Who is that girl’ and ‘Does the mirror world go on forever?'” Its emotional sincerity is more than convincing. It’s absolutely endearing–and downright sexy.
Havas wrote “Green & Gold,” and several other tunes from Blood, after a family trip. “I went to Jamaica with my mother and it inspired me too write lots of songs about my family,” she told Der Tagesspiegel in an interview. It’s indicative of a newfound sense of purpose that emanates from her music. Beyond lyrical references, her Jamaican roots have made their way into the production of Blood. Working under the direction Paul Epworth and Jamie Lidell, she’s fashioned an aesthetic that moves beyond the tender acoustic ballads of her first release.
On the boisterous cut “Midnight,” Havas strives for big band electro pop, her vocals testing the limits of their reach to hugely satisfying results. The track itself embodies a certain kind of emotional freedom. “Lately I’m living in midnight, and if you think I’m crazy pay it no mind,” she sings, “You’ll never know the places I go when I’m alone.” “Grow” is a frisky, Latin rock number, where Havas showcases some of her sharpest lyrical instincts. “I resisted the charms of evil’s arms as she stood by my bedside speaking in tongues,” she lilts, “And the lovers who cried won’t be denied as they fight for their right to grow.” Penultimate track “Never Get Enough” is a tempestuous number, fluctuating from tender acoustic flourishes to riveting hard rock riffs, what might be the consequence of her collaboration with Prince last year.
But Blood is not without its more vulnerable moments. During her set at last August’s Afropunk Festival, she previewed a few tracks to be featured on Blood, “Tokyo” and “Ghost,” two of the most musically restrained songs on the album. The studio versions maintain that integrity for small but saturated movements, opening up a space in the mix for Havas’ voice to thrive and expound. “Ghost,” particularly, is mournful, heart wrenching in its stark simplicity. “On and on we go, always with the ghost of us in tow,” her voice strikes with a flurry of ascending melisma, “Stuck somewhere between a friend and foe, round and round we go.”
Blood feels dynamic, bold, unforgiving in its restless exploration of sound. It radiates ecstatic energies, gives off a kind of happiness that never digresses to kitschy or camp–outlined by powerful moments of sadness. As a whole, Blood sounds fuller, messier, and more daring than Havas’ debut LP. Such stylistic maturation, the clear yet startling growth she’s amassed over the past few years, is invigorating to witness.