Even after being in the industry for nearly a decade, Lianne La Havas still manages to make strides with her music. After a five-year hiatus, La Havas casts away the acoustic sound and bass-ridden soul music that gained her initial popularity critical acclaim, and on her third studio album—Lianne La Havas—the 31-year-old boldly reintroduces herself. By adopting a new sound (a more sultry neo-soul one) and a more somber topic (a recent emotional breakup), she makes the powerful statement that vulnerability not only sells but soars.
With each song, the Brit guides us on this journey, revealing more about herself—the good, the bad, and the heartbreaking—and who she hopes to become. For listeners, this resonates since many of us have experienced a similar reawakening when faced with significant shifts in our lives: We are not merely what we experience, we are also what grows from them.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic may have caused some delays in the music industry, there couldn’t have been a better time for La Havas to release this body of work. As the pandemic stripped away the world we previously knew, the songstress has crafted a much-needed dialogue to process these drastically jarring changes while creating a forum to help move through a new reality and embrace a new beginning when the literal and emotional dust clears.
“Bittersweet,” the first single and song on the album, was released in early February, a month before the pandemic forced worldwide closures. The song serves as a primer and warning, both in the album and real life, about potential loss looming around the corner. The single approaches the trickiness of avoiding conflict with poetic lyrics that stress the need to resolve problems sooner rather than later, if for anything to alleviate her growing anxiety. Here, we are introduced to the artist’s first stage of dealing with and reflecting on this impending change (a theme perfectly threaded throughout the entire album). Without rehashing all of the details of her relationship, the Grammy nominee does choose to reminisce on it, describing it as “bittersweet.” Most importantly, she recognizes that while that love has dissipated, the lessons learned forced her to birth a new version of herself.
Like most films, the album follows a three-act structure in its intriguing plot. The smooth lyrics and blooming beats of “Read My Mind” and “Can’t Fight” highlight the ecstasy felt at the beginning of a romantic relationship. Throughout these songs, La Havas draws out the romance of discovering a new potential lover and exploring vulnerability and intimacy. Here, she is doing more than merely asking us to believe in love; she wants us to be open to receive it and feel at ease with it by calling it home just as she has.
“Paper Thin” tackles the challenging parts of a relationship where acceptance is necessary after new information about her lover changes the nature of her feelings. La Havas softly narrates through a tug-of-war game where she pleads with her partner to reveal more of themselves. This confession of her partner’s emotional pain asks the singer whether she can learn to love what she sees. Her vibrating hymns answer both with hesitation and affirmation that love can conquer all.
Melodically, the album ends on two different tonal notes with “Please Don’t Make Me Cry,” “Courage,” and “Sour Flower” as the singer sends a goodbye letter to her lover and her old self. Grounding herself in letting go of something no longer sweet to her, La Havas embraces the grief and resilience in the face of losing her partner and her familiar. The focus shifts to the liberating work that La Havas wants to do on herself to get over the heartbreak and grow from her what she has endured.
Through a pandemic (and beyond), Lianne La Havas offers comfort in a time where unwarranted change is visibly inevitable. Rebuilding a sense of home in an era of unavoidable change requires letting go of what you are used to, including relationships, environments and dreams. After testing the waters herself, Lianne La Havas tells us that the water is fine on the other side and that home can be built wherever you are, even amongst the rubble.
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