Katy B – Little Red
Record Label: Columbia
Release Date: February 11, 2014
I've always maintained that if more pop stars took influence from the UK bass scene, the world would be better off. The spark that ignited this idea came with Katy B's 2011 debut album On A Mission, where she showed off her knack for pop songwriting over a slew of beats that were heavily indebted to dubstep, garage, house, and a ton of other underground dance styles. For her sophomore album Little Red, Katy B has more or less taken the same route, but this time the songwriting is tighter, the vocal performances are much better, and the overall package just feels more fully realized.
Right from the start, Katy B begs you to get up and dance with a run of tracks that feature massive deep house beats. She worked with producer Geenus again for the majority of the album, and the two of them are really starting to play off of each other's strengths. “5 AM,” for example, tries to retain more of a pop structure despite being backed by a beat that sounds great on the dance floor, resulting in a strong single that easily gets stuck in your head. The previously released “Aaliyah” from 2012's Danger EP is a welcome addition to the album,and although about a minute is chopped off, the missing time is hardly noticeable. It's the chemistry between Jessie Ware and Katy B that really drives the song home, resulting in the best song Katy has penned to date.
From there, things start off slow and ballad-y on “Crying For No Reason” before exploding into a gigantic breakstep track that features Katy in a very vulnerable state. It may be the most straight up “pop” song she has written yet, but it's a massive success that ends up being one of the stand out tracks on the album. When she slows things down elsewhere, like on the dubstep-influenced “All My Lovin',” the results are a little less thrilling. There's nothing inherently wrong with the track, but it fails to reach the soaring highs of “Crying For No Reason.”
The back half of the album feels decidedly less in-your-face than the front half, and songs like “Play,” which contains a great feature and production from Sampha (who is best known for his work with SBTRKT and Drake), aim for a bit of subtlety while still offering enough up front to hold the listener's attention. Even the house tunes like “Everything” and the Jacques Greene-produced “Sapphire Blue” feel a little more restrained than what was offered earlier on the album. Things really slow down for the closer “Still,” and Katy shows off her vocal talent and very powerful voice, which is enough to carry what may otherwise be a rather boring end to the album.
Wether or not Little Red is better than On A Mission is up for debate; the former is a much more consistent and even listen, but the latter features much higher highs and lower lows. Depending on what you're looking for in an album like this, you might prefer one over the other. As it is, though, Katy B easily avoided a lot of problems people run into with their sophomore albums. New faces appear but never intrude, and the refined songwriting doesn't sacrifice the charm that the debut had. This album solidifies Katy B as a pop singer that everyone should know about. Hopefully, by album three, she'll be a name that you simply can't escape.