1. Next Thing
3. Aaliyah [feat. Jessie Ware]
4. Crying For No Reason
5. I Like You
6. All My Lovin'
7. Tumbling Down
9. Play [feat. Sampha]
10. Sapphire Blue
Running time: 48:11
Little Red is the second full length release from Peckham, South London-born singer Katy B. In 2011, Katy B released debut On a Mission to much commercial success, but also to a certain amount of critical acclaim. Her biggest success was the album's nomination for the prestigious Mercury Prize that year. At the time of that record's release, Katy B was barely into her twenties when her debut was released, and much of it was recorded and written whilst she was still in her teens, so the early signs were always positive. Album number two isn't merely an attempt to avoid the fabled sophomore slump, but it's an indication of just how this young lady has managed to grow up and become a woman while managing quite the difficult career. Little Red is a more straight-forward dance record, dropping some of the dub-step and garage elements that were present in her first record in favour of a more slick, R&B flavoured follow up.
Considering her BRIT school background and south London upbringing, it's a fair shout to compare Katy B's debut to that of an Arctic Monkeys or The Streets in their accurate portrayal of growing up in 21st century England, even if the Katy's version events is more relatable to the female side of the equation. If her debut record saw her club-hopping around the streets of London, Little Red opener “Next Thing” sees her dance on long past closing time, regardless of the lights having gone up a long while ago. It picks up right where her previous record left off. But this time round, Katy is more experienced, much more mature and much more aware of what she wants. “5AM” talks of luring love, as many of the album's tracks do. Put instead of recklessly putting herself out there, Little Red feels like Katy is lurking in the shadows making more empowered decisions about what she does and who she does it with. Crucially she manages to maintain an air of vulnerability that maintains her girl-next-door aura, in the brilliant “Aaliyah” that features fellow Brixtonian Jessie Ware. The track appeared on a previous EP and has been floating around a while, but it's still brilliant. It's Dolly Parton's “Jolene” in a club setting and it works brilliantly. “Aaliyah please don't take my man / although you know that you can... / Please, this is green envy / why must you taunt me, girl.” She sounds not desperate, but helpless, and crucially, that's a very relatable feeling. The track closes with a devastating refrain of “why can't he play a song for me?” to conclude not just one of the album's stand-out tracks, but one of the year's best to date.
What's quite evident on album number two is Katy B, along with her co-writers one would assume, has managed to perfect the idea of building a song up to a crescendo. Too often on On A Mission it was a case of getting to the chorus as quickly as possible in order to fill the dancefloor, but on brilliantly understated lead single “Crying For No Reason,” Katy uses her delicate vocal to build to something that is much greater than the sum of its parts. Vocally, Katy is not one of the most naturally-gifted performers out there but on Little Red she plays to her strengths and it works fantastically well. The aforementioned “Crying For No Reason” occasionally threatens to break into a disco classic but never does, instead opting to focus on the vocal and the resulting four minutes toes the line of an left-field Adele-esque power ballad. Vocally the record far exceeds its predecessor and on more than a couple of occasions, her vocal works takes would-be middling songs to all new heights. “Tumbling Down” is a stand out in this sense; it's a harmless dub beat that unfurls into a monster of a track almost entirely due to the powerful vocal work. Similar effects are seen on album highlights “I Like You” and “All My Lovin.” It's difficult to talk about the record's highlights without mentioning “Emotions.” It possesses many of the same assets of tracks I've previously discussed, except tenfold. Vocally, it's outstanding. Lyrically, it's much more thought-provoking a mature. And it builds and builds from delicate opening verse song over mid-tempo house beats to soaring chorus and onwards.
If anything, fans may raise an eyebrow at just how far over to the other end of the spectrum Little Red takes us. If there's a complaint to be made about the record, and in all fairness that aren't too many, then it's that the second half of lacks a dancefloor-detonator on the level of “Katy on a Mission.” A couple of tracks sit too much on the fence between ballad and banger, and that results in them getting lost in the shuffle. “Everything” and the Sampha-featuring “Play” are the weakest efforts to speak of, but they're not even bad tracks, just not on par with the rest of the record. Even the guy who finishes last in the 100 metres is still a really fast bloke. Strangely there are tracks on the various deluxe offerings of the album that deserve a spot on the real thing and don't make it, but the album then finishes incredibly strongly with the sultry “Sapphire Blue,” the aforementioned “Emotions” and the powerful “Still.” Throughout the record, Katy B maintains such an authentic vibe and she's able to do this because she's been there and done it. Her experiences are reflected in her music, and now she's a few years older, her experiences are far more meaningful to a wider audience. She still knows how to fill a dancefloor, unquestionably, but now she has them not simply going along with the sound of the music, but hanging off her every word.
Katy B - “Crying For No Reason”
The 411: Little Red sees Katy B shift ever so slightly from the strobes of On A Mission to a sound that incorporates more room for power ballads, songs about love and relationships and the like. But this should come as no surprise. Firstly, the innocence present on album number one is gone, replaced by an older, more-knowing Katy B. Secondly, there's increased input from the bigwigs in the industry. Like On A Mission, Little Red is steered by producer Geenus, head of Rinse FM, but there's additional input from the likes of Guy Chambers, famed for his work with Robbie Williams who knows a thing or two about topping the charts in the UK. Clearly though, Katy B is still the one making the key decisions. On Little Red, she brings an authenticity to an otherwise disposable genre and sets a standard for other artists to meet. When she last did this three years ago, the likes of Rudimental and Disclosure stepped up, took hold of the baton and ran with it. Well Katy B wants it back, and she won't be taking no for an answer. Little Red is a vital album in representing British music in 2014 and will hopefully translate well to the United States as many of Katy's contemporaries have. Never has the dance genre sounded so genuine, so personal, and so exciting as it does on Little Red.