Friday, March 27th, 2020

Lianne La Havas – Bittersweet

Does this count as a Pharrell intro…?


Wayne Weizhen Zhang: With smokey words and sepia tones, Lianne La Havas paints a devastatingly beautiful vignette: on a rainy but tranquil morning, you wake up in the warm embrace of someone who loves you, and suddenly, you realize that you don’t love them back. 

Alfred Soto: As much as I’ve taken mild enjoyment from Lianne La Havas in the past, this attempt to wring bittersweetness from genre requirements this constricted reminds me of Alicia Keys. This we can’t have.

Oliver Maier: La Havas and co. thread the production of a lofi hip-hop beat (to study and relax to) into a live band performance. It’s an interesting experiment but the two different approaches to momentum — one based around quick stops and starts, the other around gradual expansions and contractions — feel mismatched, and throw “Bittersweet” off-balance. La Havas might have elevated it with her performance, but the ostentatious chorus vocal is an unwelcome detour from the smoky, patient verses. Subtlety already sounds gorgeous on her, why bring out the big guns when they’re not necessary?

Ryo Miyauchi: Lianne La Havas introduces just enough tension in the picture-perfect neo soul to elevate the Isaac Hayes-inspired prettiness beyond mere wallpaper decorations. She adds pressure in the wrong spots, leaving the actual relationship drama in the verses underutilized, but there’s still a passive-aggressiveness present to hint at a little crack behind the scenes.

Leah Isobel: The piano hits maintain a certain delicacy even as they’re doubled on top of every other instrument in the song, like raindrops hitting the ground with the force of a bowling ball. These soft-heavy shadings are where La Havas does her best vocal work; her vibrato and her fondness for a blue note makes her belts sound like they’re taking all the force from her body, while the warmth in her tone makes her softer phrasings feel reassuring, even at her most heartbroken. Yes, “Bittersweet” is texturally gorgeous, and it does exactly what its title promises to do — maybe to a fault. It’s perfectly composed and just a little airless, a baptism in a snow globe.

Kylo Nocom: It’s really hard to judge more critically when approaching polite music. There’s hardly anything to attack here: sure, it’s boring, but it’s pretty! R&B is hard to truly fuck up, and Lianne La Havas gives the chorus enough lift to feel like this song isn’t simply going by the motions, but God am I begging for something that’ll actively offend me once it ends.

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