Metro Weekly

Album Review: Laura Mvula makes a spectacular pivot to pop with “Pink Noise”

Laura Mvula's long-awaited third album clears the high bar set by her first two releases

Laura Mvula
Laura Mvula

Laura Mvula’s reinvention has been as surprising as it’s been dramatic. After the four years of relative silence that followed her acclaimed second album, she has opted to trade the chill, cerebral psychedelic vibe of her “Green Garden” years for an energetic, room-filling pop sound that exudes feelings of relief and release.

The award-winning English singer set herself a high bar with her first two albums and their trippy fusion of soul, jazz and R&B, but her latest release handily steps over it. Pink Noise (★★★★★) is full of the lush harmonies and ethereal vocals that marked her earlier work, but this time they are propelled forward by synths and drum machines into a full-blown pop fantasy.

Pink Noise is something of a comeback album, marking Mvula’s return to recording after being unceremoniously dropped by her former label. Her joy at being back in the recording booth is palpable throughout the album, and listening to its relentlessly energetic, infectiously upbeat tracks, it’s hard not to smile along with her. Mvula’s songwriting and production talents are put to good use here, with a highly danceable sound that calls to mind ’80s synthpop and ’90s discopop.

Mvula backs up the album’s aesthetic with nods towards pop and R&B icons throughout. The thumping synths paired with dramatic strings of the title track evoke Janet Jackson, while the funky guitars and brass of “Remedy” call to mind Earth, Wind & Fire. Not content to cop from just one Jackson, Mvula channels early Michael Jackson to glorious effect on the single “Got Me,” an incredibly catchy dance track that demands to be moved to.

Laura Mvula: Pink Noise
Laura Mvula: Pink Noise

Aside from the clever callbacks to the music Mvula grew up with, the album’s sound is unmistakably her own and difficult to pin down only in narrow terms of genre. The deep growl and multifaceted vocal harmonies of “Conditional” sound like they must have come from a kind of intense dreamscape. “Magical,” an anthemic celebration of persistence, delivers beautifully on its title, coming to a head with full orchestral bombast. With a big boost from Simon Neil, she takes us on a richly layered journey with “What Matters,” a sun-drenched ’80s pop ballad.

While Mvula’s tone on Pink Noise is relentlessly enthusiastic and positive, she can’t help but get one dig in as she closes out the album with the cinematic final track, “Before the Dawn.” Recounting the feeling of being knocked back to square one with the line, “looked up around me and everything around me was gone,” she leaves us with timeless advice, “Don’t doubt for too long/It’s always darkest before the dawn.”

Having now staged a spectacular rebirth as a pop star and marked it with a glorious comeback album, it should be clear to anyone that they doubt this immensely talented artist at their own peril.

Pink Noise is available for streaming and purchase now. Visit www.lauramvula.com. Follow her on Twitter at @lauramvula.

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