“It’s the question that everyone’s been asking: where have I been?”, says Elly Jackson, the headfront of La Roux. Their last released a record in 2014. Talk about a difficult second album – not only did the aptly named "Trouble in Paradise" have to follow a debut that spawned monster hits “Bulletproof” and “In For the Kill”, it came with delay after delay, issues with collaborators, and the eventual breakdown of her creative partnership with Ben Langmaid, originally one half of La Roux alongside Jackson. A collection of songs that she felt she had wrestled into being over the course of five years, the sophomore "Trouble in Paradise" tried to make sense of a taxing time in her professional life through pristine pop music. Five years was a long time to spend making a record, fussing with every tiny detail, and although it didn’t achieve the commercial success of the debut "La Roux", "Trouble in Paradise" was critically beloved. Touring that record as a solo act (she and Langmaid had parted ways before its release), in interviews at the time, she spoke enthusiastically about what she was working on next: it was underway, it was happening, it was good. But the years came and went with no sign of La Roux’s return.
“After the last album, I felt very unsettled, creatively and personally. Regardless of anyone or anything else, just within myself. I just felt like, ‘Why do I not feel like I’m in the right space?’” When the tour of "Trouble in Paradise" ended and she was three years into work on La Roux 3, things came to a head. “I just really felt, like, this is not how I wanted my life to go? I’m doing all these things and so many of them are great and I’ve just made an album I’m really proud of even though it took fucking forever, but... I still just didn’t feel right in my life.” She wasn’t lying in those 2015 interviews – she had started work on the next album. She’d spent three years working on it, collaborating with a number of new musicians. “I started a journey with some other music. I was halfway through that journey, probably more than halfway through, and I just realised that everything had got even worse. (...) Long story short, I had, like, a breakdown – a very, very, very mini breakdown, a very quick one.”
The “Hello, I’ve scrapped the entire album I was making” phone call is probably not high up on the list of things that managers want to hear from their charges, but Jackson’s new manager, David Bianchi, took it in his stride. It turns out that he’d already come to the conclusion that starting over was exactly what she needed to do. “He said, ‘Okay, what do you want?’” Jackson says. “And I said, ‘I want you to leave me alone until I’ve done it.’ And that was in February last year.” In the end, after three years of grind, Supervision took just three months to write and arrange. “I called him in April and said I’m pretty much done.”
After nine years of wrestling songs into fruition, the track that kicked off this new new La Roux era was “Do You Feel”. She wrote it, alone, in her kitchen, in four days. It’s a shimmying swoop of a song, full of neat guitars and gently woven harmonies. The song is about her best friend, one of the people who helped her reach a happier, healthier place, with daily texts checking in and unquestioningly being there for her. Space was a key element too, both metaphorically and physically. She found her feet and her confidence, avoiding calling people for help when she hit a snag and finishing the job. Supervision is a play on words. “I can literally see clearly now,” she says, laughingly conceding ground to her penchant for puns, “but also, I don’t need supervision anymore.”
Where "La Roux" barreled headfirst into 80s power pop meets nu-rave, and "Trouble in Paradise" leans into the funk of Chic-style production and elegant, Grace Jones-ish vocal shapes, "Supervision" avoids consciously referencing other eras. Of course, you can’t help but hear those “Let’s Dance” guitars, the flash of disco, or the warmth and shape of George Michael’s songcraft, but the only thing they really remind you of is... La Roux.
“International Woman of Leisure”, the first single, is a funky disco track that dovetails from sardonic falsetto to a chorus that could be an allegory for the last 18 months of the La Roux story: “Oh I can feel a change in the weather, where I’m going I know it’s much better.” With "Supervision", Jackson has found a way to escape that world that had been built up around her. “I feel happier than I’ve ever felt. This sounds really ridiculous, but you know when you’re six or seven, and you’re happy? I feel like that. Totally free in my mind, free in myself.” Sometimes, you have to break down to build yourself back up ag