By Demi Palmer
Lianne Charlotte Barnes, more commonly referred to as Lianne La Havas, is an indie singer born in London. “La Havas” was taken from her father’s full Greek name. The feelings her music elicits don’t quite fit into a single or definitive genre- rather she’s created space for her own sound. Much of her original fame is attributed to being the backup singer for Paloma Faith, but as she started to embrace her unique music tastes, she became well regarded by a wide variety of artists such as Bon Iver, Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, Coldplay and her cultural music mentor - Prince. Her studio album, Is your Love Big Enough, won iTune’s best album of the year in 2012 and was nominated for the Mercury Prize. Her album, Blood, followed in 2015, which was a lyrically decorated, colorful and lush collection of emotions and melodies. Most recently, she released her third album, 'Lianne La Havas', which is a musical expression of her metamorphosis towards self-love and self-acceptance. The title references her name and she explains that in being at the center of all the songs, she’s onto something very true to who she is. The album lies at the corner of her most true identity, between her Jamacian and Greek heritage and is an open invitation for listeners to figure themselves out, just as she is executing for herself.
The album opens beautifully with her song 'Bittersweet', already a title that represents the duality that exists within herself and the complicated situations that she’s orchestrated. She sings the story of a dead-end relationship with a partner that she knows she must end, but feels trapped in doing so. Quite blatantly she sings, “this shit is going nowhere.” In the song, she avoids that partner in their attempt to make it work as an effigy of self-avoidance. She’s realizing the need to effectively communicate with herself in order to communicate with others, such as this partner. She also expresses a need for distance; not only must she distance herself from her partner, but also old habits. In a rap genius interview, Lianne admits that this song is about reconnecting with oneself and realizing that certain things may need to change in order to take the steps one wishes to take. But more importantly than acknowledging unfulfilling situations, is mustering strength and courage to will oneself out of them. Towards the end of the song, Lianne encourages herself by repeating the phrase, “What are you waiting for” in hopes of taking the next step past acknowledging a bad situation. The chorus chants, “bittersweet summer rain, I’m born again,” hence a turning point that encapsulates an invigorating restart in her life. This song fully expresses Lianne’s ability to acknowledge what’s sweet in a bitter situation and that both words will always co-exist; one cannot happen without the other.
Her album continues with the single, 'Read my Mind' which covers a sweet, whimsical encounter of meeting a love interest before the track for 'Can’t Fight' begins. 'Can’t Fight' exhibits the theme of strength, and the absence of it; it fully accepts where one is in their journey. The song is layered behind an upbeat and playful tune, in an attempt to make a frustrating feeling, something to relate to and celebrate. In this song, Lianne is aware that something is not good for her and in people’s attempt to pull her back from it, she instead dives fully into it. Hence, she expresses, “you’re pulling me back and now I’m going under.” Lianne doesn’t shame herself, or try to talk herself out of it. Insteads, she is self-aware of her needs and provides herself the room to experience the highs and the burns. She sings, “everything's right until it's wrong, but something about you feels like home...you know that you got me gone.” Since the beginning of time, people have purposely made decisions that they knew from the beginning were wrong, whether it was Adam and Eve knowingly eating the forbidden fruit or Brutus knowingly killing his close friend, Caesar. In this song, Lianne understands that she can’t fight her needs, and instead, dives fully into it, which comes with a new set of learnings on its own.
'Paper Thin' immediately follows 'Can’t Fight' as if it were the natural consequence of her decision to knowingly enter a bad situation. The song is structured as a self-written letter and reminder to be gentle with herself and to handle herself with grace- the epitome of self-love. 'Paper Thin' is a figurine for the condition of her heart and ego. She fully understands her pain and that it is valid, and reminds herself that God has not left her. This further supports another theme that her spiritual forces are always working for her and never against her and that she must be patient in her healing journey. Lianne opens up about her feelings of self-doubt and lack of confidence, an appropriate topic for an album that is centered around her truest feelings and vulnerability. While parts of herself have permanently changed, as what usually happens during self-transformative growth, she seeks to better understand different ways to access her new self, as evident in her lyrics, “give me the other key, your heart’s wide open.” However, her vulnerability in airing her pain will eventually lead to freedom, as she expresses in the song. She reassures herself with loving phrases such as, “I know you’re made of better stuff” and “I just want to love you” clearly referring to herself in this letter of self-love.
'Weird Fishes' is situated in the middle of the album after the interlude; it is a turning point in not only her reflection, but also musically. While the beat opens with drums and symbols similarly to other songs, she rearranges the rhythms to resemble rock or alternative genres and eventually softens the intro with a simple piano melody. Her turning point is symbolic because it occurs musically and lyrically. She sings about being at the bottom of the sea, broken and picked over and apart by worms. However, Lianne has demonstrated earlier in the album, her understanding of transformation and that to emerge as new, one must shed what is old. Therefore, at the bottom of the sea, Lianne leaves behind her carcass. With her phrase, “turn me onton phantom,” it’s evident that her old self has expired and a new spirit has taken shape to escape the dark, cold place where she previously existed. Her metamorphosis transcends delicacy, just as the beat in the song transforms into something more subtle when compared to the intro. Lianne’s beautiful recount of being at rock bottom and rising as someone stronger, is on brand with the many themes of transformation, self-love and acceptance within the rest of the album.
Lianne’s album, cunningly named as herself, is really a journey within. It’s written as a recount of what it feels like to be Lianne La Havas, while also encouraging others to define an album for their own lives. Musically, the album is crafted with raw instrumentals and paired with tender vocals, imperceptibly expressing the authenticity and vulnerability of her own journey. It’s a beautiful take on simple art forms and what it means to strip something down to its core, bereft of flashy embellishments. Throughout this entire album, I was able to relate to every song, and while her journey is unique, the themes are present in everyone’s life. She tugs at the battle of the brain and heart and the compromises that follow the manner in whichever way the scale tips. The ode to herself is one which has made me question, what are the songs in my own personal life, and what are the stories that have defined me the most? Perhaps the importance does not lie within the stories itself, rather the connection of the dots between them, and the creation of a unique path towards-self love.
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