Pixie Lott’s 2009 debut Turn It Up was one of the year’s most promising — and downright infectious — debuts. With gems like “Mama Do” and “Boys And Girls,” which both topped the UK singles charts, she was a pop star tour de force. Or, a force to be reckoned with. And while her next three singles didn’t hit number one, they all cracked the top 20. A star was born indeed. But her second album, Young Foolish Happy, wasn’t quite so impressive. She didn’t sound like she was having half as much fun as she seemed to be having on Turn It Up, just based on the levels of enthusiasm and vigor in her voice. Instead, it felt like she was just going through the motions. To be fair, the album’s first single, “All About Tonight,” was fabulous, but after that everything rang false. With a seemingly endless number of collaborators all aiming to concoct hits, it all felt very paint-by-numbers. Also, Pixie had debuted as a pop star, but Young Foolish Happy was crammed full of R&B songs and even songs with hip hop beats. It just wasn’t the Pixie we’d all been so smitten with just a couple of years earlier. Which would explain why every single following “All About Tonight” basically flopped. Cut to 2014. Now Pixie Lott is back in pop mode with her new eponymous album and boy is it a winner.
The album opens with the first single,”Nasty,” which is a boisterous number with shimmering bursts of horns sounding off behind some mighty potent pop beats that especially take you to school during the massive chorus. The song was recorded by Christina Aguilera for the movie Burlesque but it was never used, although a demo of her performing it with Cee Lo Green eventually did leak. To that end, yes, Christina and Cee Lo’s version was fantastic, but Pixie’s version really knocks it out of the park. Far, far out of the park. She owns it now and big pop songs don’t get much better than this.
“Lay Me Down” follows and it’s another massive pop number. Pixie had stated that she wanted to make a Motown-influenced album prior to recording this record and you can hear a bit of that influence on this track, though it’s much more prominent later in the album. To my ears, “Lay Me Down” is the sort of slightly retro pop song that Duffy should be doing if she wants another hit album. With potent strings, shimmering horns and ultra-fast beats, this one doesn’t crawl inside your ear and stay there so much as it pummels you over the head. But it’s only once it’s knocked you down that you realize what a four on the floor beast it is. And then you can’t help but admire it.
The Motown sound is super present during the mid-tempo ballad “Break Up Song,” one of several tracks on the album that Pixie is credited for co-writing. “I’m gonna miss the way you held me in the morning,” she sings tenderly. Although it is a break up song, it consists of Pixie asking her partner for just one more night. “Make love like we just met.”
“Champion” is a great mix of Motown vibes and modern pop music. It’s the sort of thing Amy Winehouse might be doing if she was still with us. The retro elements sound entirely authentic and they mesh perfectly with the punchy, up-tempo beats. As if the title doesn’t give it away, the song is about being a winner. It even references Rocky Balboa. Can’t go wrong with Rocky.
Things slow down considerably for the slightly jazzy ballad “Ain’t Got You.” It’s down-tempo and downtrodden. “If I ain’t got you / I ain’t got anything,” she sings, sounding entirely heart-broken, clearly having channeled up some painful emotions when she recorded this one.
Pixie Lott is not one of those albums where all the best songs are at the beginning. Perhaps the record company intended for it to be that way, since the first two tracks are the first two singles, but as the album goes on it delivers lots of other noteworthy tunes. One of them is “Heart Cry” which has twinkly Motown embellishments along with loud drum beats. Pixie’s voice sounds strong as ever here. It even sounds like she might be expressing a bit of anger. “Have you ever had a heart cry?” she asks, sounding like an expert on the subject. It’s passionate and that passion makes it downright infectious.
Another highlight from the second half of the album is gorgeous “Raise Up,” an inspiring piano ballad about finding the strength to soldier on. “If I fall from grace / If I’m feeling out of place,” she sings. “I’ll raise up / Up, Up, Up.” One wonders if she’s not talking about rising from the ashes of all those burned copies of her last album. But, hey, this album more than makes up for that dud. And it just might be the year’s most inspirational pop album as it overflows with songs meant to inspire and give listeners strength. Suffice to say this is a very positive record. It’s not without heartache, but that’s just one of the many things that Pixie overcomes throughout these songs. As “Bang” goes, “At least we can say we went out with a bang, bang, bang.” But Pixie doesn’t need to worry: she won’t be going anywhere but up, up, up from here.