The album she was born to make
Adam England
12:32 2nd July 2021

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An Ivor Novello. Two MOBOs. Two Mercury Prize nominations. Two albums that reached 9 and 21 on the UK albums chart respectively. Laura Mvula has had a solid career with the critical and commercial success that many an artist would envy, tapping into the post-Winehouse gap in the market for soul (with a dash of pop and jazz) to evident success.

A classically-trained musician making soul with the sort of pop nous that guarantees solid commercial and critical success, you could easily forgive Mvula for sticking with what was clearly a winning formula - but on her new album Pink Noise, she wanted to branch out. Sure, we might have thought of Mvula as being a soul artist, but she’s not someone content with being pigeon-holed.

Describing her previous sound as being seen as: “pop but it's not pop, it's jazz but it's not jazz, it's classical but it's not classical, it's black but it's not black", and after supporting David Byrne in 2018, Mvula decided to make a change by incorporating more electronics than ever before and harking back to the pop she listened to growing up.

This leads us to Pink Noise. It’s not a complete departure from Mvula’s earlier work, but it is a little different - in some ways, it feels as if this is the album the 35-year-old was born to make. Shunning the neo-soul of her previous work (to a degree), here she looks back to the '80s and embraces funk, disco, and pure pop. Bombastic synths are par for the course here, along with Mvula’s passionate vocals. 

The sort of influences mentioned include Michael Jackson, Prince, and Chic - the sounds Mvula loved growing up, but there’s plenty here that conjures up thoughts of some of her contemporaries too. The funk-pop of ‘Church Girl’ could be the older sibling to Lizzo’s ‘Juice’, (alongside a heavy Whitney Houston influence) while you could argue that shades of Dua Lipa and even HAIM shine through. “How can you dance/With the devil on your back?” she sings, the philosophical nature of the question at odds with the upbeat nature of the track. 

The album opens with ‘Safe Passage’, a clear (and synth-heavy) statement of intent, and ‘Conditional’ follows with its icy synths and a chorus that’s a budding earworm: “I don’t cry no tears for you/I needed love/Unconditional” might sound sombre, but Mvula’s delivery is defiant, and will surely strike a chord with plenty of listeners.

Title track 'Pink Noise' has a sound that’s joyfully retro - easily a potential summer anthem - while it’s followed by ‘Golden Ashes’, giving Mvula a chance to show off her impressive vocals. As a vocalist, she’s very bloody good, and that’s something that no matter the style of the music, will always remain true.

One thing that shines through is that Mvula sounds like she’s enjoying herself - as if she’s making the music she wants to make, not the music she thinks she should be making. And it’s something that we can enjoy too.

Pink Noise is out now.

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Photo: Press