Album Remarks & Appraisals:
Japanese edition includes two bonus tracks. Warner. 2009.
Rolling Stone (p.75) - 3 star out of 5 -- "[A] bunch of shiny, propulsive electro-pop songs. Hesketh is a dance artist with a torchy streak..."
Entertainment Weekly (p.92) - "[M]usically, she's great at taking superstar glamour to the streets." -- Grade: B+
Billboard - "Little Boots surrounds herself with complex electronic tracks that collapse into each other like dominoes, with such producers as RedOne and Greg Kurstin contributing energetic beats."
Pitchfork (Website) - "[A] mainstream pop effort with an indie-friendly narrative....One three-and-a-half-minute nugget comes after another, with the directness of Madonna and the fashion sense, too..."
A good year on from catching ears and sparking potentially damaging levels of next-big-thing hype with her first single, "Stuck on Repeat" -- a sleek, buzzy, self-fulfilling prophecy of "metaphor pop" with obvious debts to Kylie Minogue and Giorgio Moroder, and a writing/production assist from Hot Chip's Joe Goddard -- Little Boots (aka U.K. popstress Victoria Hesketh) finally showed her Hands. When it arrived, her full-length debut amply justified the hype even while slightly disappointing some of her faithful. It's true that only a handful of Hands' cuts can stack up against the stunning "Stuck" in terms of sonic distinctiveness and sheer hooky inevitability, and realistically, despite some clear mainstream potential, it's unlikely to achieve the sort of massive crossover success that some may have envisioned -- certainly not in America, where the album's street date was pushed back considerably beyond its June 2009 U.K. release. Frankly, Little Boots isn't doing anything especially musically innovative -- as she well knows -- and Hands fails to add any buzz-stoking specifics or publicity hooks to her persona beyond the already established basics: her savvy pop-positive hipster cred and playfully retro videogenic appeal, neither of which give her a leg up on the more quirkily personable likes of Robyn, Lily Allen, or Lady Gaga. But that's perfectly fine, because what Hesketh and her highly pedigreed collaborators have accomplished here is nevertheless a surprisingly rare, deceptively difficult achievement: a practically flawless and entirely enjoyable album of pure electronic pop: "pure" in the sense that, apart from the tacked-on (and unlisted) solo piano title track, there are no sounds on this record other than synthesizers (including synthesized drums) and vocals. Also in that, while the synths are often distorted, filtered, and otherwise electronically muddled, Hesketh's voice is to a large extent tonally pure, and generally devoid of specific inflections, coming across not as blank or chilly so much as just slightly anonymous (in contrast to the undeniably distinctive pipes of her oft-compared compatriot, La Roux's Elly Jackson.)
Although the album, in typical 21st century pop fashion, features a plethora of producers -- including Goddard, chart champion (and Gaga accomplice) RedOne, the increasingly omnipresent Greg Kurstin (Allen, Minogue), and Bertine Zetlitz collaborator Fred Ball -- and a corresponding variety of musical moods -- the brash and buzzy strut of "New in Town," the decidedly Hot Chip-y clank'n'chug of "Meddle," the darkly glossy trip-pop of "Hearts Collide" -- they seem to have condensed on a consistent, elegantly simple synth pop vibe that sets up a sonically unified, satisfyingly streamlined listen. The directness and consistency of the album's production, vocals, and stylistic approach leave a great deal of the focus on the songs themselves, which is good, because songs are arguably Hands greatest asset: a solid batch with several standouts (mostly the singles, including the stomping, club-ready "Remedy" and the absolutely massive-sounding "New in Town," along with the indomitable "Stuck on Repeat") but no space-filling duds or truly weak links. The songs, too, have a distinct conceptual purity, marrying effortless melodic mastery to a kind of lyrical facelessness, often eschewing any kind of personal specificity for general-purpose love/relationship commentary delivered in extended metaphorical conceits about driving ("No Brakes"), broadcasting ("Tune into My Heart"), medicine ("Remedy" -- which is technically, and fittingly, about dancing, not love), and math (not only the bouncy "Mathematics," a treasure trove of senseless arithmetic and algebra jokes ("your x is equal to my y"), but also "Symmetry," a duet with Human League's Philip Oakey that takes on geometry and the general concept of opposition). As restrained and mild-mannered as she may be, Hesketh at her best manages to make even these obvious generic abstractions feel truly affecting: a neat feat she pulled off on "Stuck on Repeat," finding the spark of aching humanity inside the manifestly mechanical (both lyrically and musically), and one she repeats here on the sweetly soaring "No Brakes," a gorgeous, paradoxically calm testament to the delirious uncontrollability of love. Such is the power of great pop, a power that rests firmly within Little Boots' very capable Hands. ~ K. Ross Hoffman