La Roux — “Bulletproof”

Released: 7.21.09

Peak: #8

“You Spin Me Round (Like a Record)” made a strange comeback in 2009. For starters, you had Dr. Luke negligently violating the DNR order and defibrillating the Dead or Alive hook for Flo Rida’s benefit on “Right Round,” as translated by Ke$ha’s most arresting vocal to date. (I don’t necessarily mean that in a good way.) (Or in a bad way.) (I don’t exactly know what I mean.) (I just wish I liked “Tik Tok” enough to have an excuse to grapple with Ke$ha.) (Wait, let me rephrase that.)

More obliquely, this U.K. duo of reformed folkie Elly Jackson and behind-the-curtain twiddler Ben Langmaid translated that oldie’s rhythmic essentials into a hook that glances off a less derivative vocal melody. Tuneful electropop may come cheap, but the sleek “Bulletproof,” a custom-tooled collection of spastic pings that ricochet into shallow pockets of pitch-bent synth, shows up the high-profile synthetic competition — by comparison David Guetta is a hapless clodhopper, Calvin Harris is Narada Michael Walden, M83 is Ummagumma scraped from the bottom of your shoe.

On La Roux’s first hit, “In For the Kill,” the beat was ascetically spare, Jackson’s upper register too shrill and pinched, and “What are feelings without emotions?” hairsplitting in search of profundity. But on “Bulletproof,” Jackson edges closer to a viable persona. The lyric is a commitment to casual sex as an escape from the inevitability of heartbreak, and as with some of the best such boasts, more uncertainty cling underneath the bravado than is first apparent. Elly’s gonna harden her heart, as a no wiser woman once said. But her spunk is so winning I even forgive her the tired opening “Been there, done that” — a lyric, catchphrase, and song title, which, let the record show, John Cale and Brian Eno beat Dr. Dre to by a full seven years.

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