I suppose in order to write an album review, you have to listen to the album.
I signed up to review Karen O’s (and Danger Mouse’s) new collaboration, Lux Prima, keen to see what one of the most explosive performers I had even seen live (and also Danger Mouse) had done this time. But then the day came to start listening, and I didn’t. It took several days to force myself to try this album on for size.
It was the loss of that ideal I was worried about. The vision of Karen O leading the Yeah Yeah Yeahs through frenzied garage punk art rock no wave (or whatever else you’d like to call it) hung heavy. Leaping into drum kits. Attempting to swallow the mic. Howling half the set while throttling herself with a silk scarf, completely covering her head and neck.
But come on, let’s move along and re-invent ourselves shall we, as both artist and listener?
There is no denying that even the demanding aggression of single, Woman, doesn’t deliver anything of the past that is so scored on my memory. In fact Lux Prima keeps O’s really quite affectingly gravelly (yes, that’s a word, pedant) vocals, but that’s pretty much where similarities end.
Lux Prima is an album without teeth then, and without the leering rage of even the YYY’s calmest ballads. But it’s actually full of something pretty fresh for Karen: a pop aesthetic that underlines that her talent is not just in performance, but as a songwriter.
The production behind Karen is clean and has a intriguing mix of the live and the synthetic. Tracks like Drown have swells and harmonies that smack of a bigger album than you might expect from just two principal artists.
Ministry shows another skill this album carries off well. Despite the big synths and the thuds of bass, much of the song hangs off a very slight acoustic guitar hook that grounds the sound wherever it wanders.
If there is a weak point, it’s the single (why is that so often the case?). Woman rings with O’s YYYs-style slapback delay to push it forward, but in the end it’s melodically flat. Perhaps they wanted to bridge the gap between Karen’s past musical pace with this album’s new direction, but it’s unnecessarily apologetic.
Let’s be clear though, the album is keen to signpost it’s newly invented style and pace from the outset. The opening, title track doesn’t add any beat to drive it for the first few minutes (and it’s 9 minutes long, for good measure). There are no apologies for this. And why should there be? Why should I be boxing in Karen, when others (like PJ Harvey) get whatever latitude they need in my mind? Lux Prima is worth my time, and it should be worth yours too.
Words by Nick Parker.