Review: V V Brown samples 2012 album 'Lollipops & Politics'
Aiming for pop stardom is a perilous thing, and Britain's V V Brown isn't taking anything for granted. Performing at Hollywood's intimate Bardot on Monday night, Brown seemed to acknowledge that a return trip to the United States was no sure thing, and inspired only by modest success. She thanked the audience not for buying her album -- Brown didn't have grand illusions -- but instead for purchasing her single "Shark in the Water."
The song, she said, had sold 750,000 downloads, and allowed her to record sophomore album "Lollipops & Politics," to be released via Capitol on Feb. 7. She performed the single near the end of a mini-set at a weekly Monday night showcase for KCRW-FM (89.9), using her versatile but small five-piece band to replace the triumphant, doubt-conquering orchestrations of the recorded version with near ballad-like pacing, lending a more reflective air to the retro, bubblegum R&B that marked Brown's 2009 debut, "Travelling Like the Light."
While it played no doubt to tighter confines of the room, the more spacious rendition also fit in nicely with the few songs Brown sampled from "Lollipops & Politics." Candle-burner "Like a Fire," for instance, was largely atmosphere, with moments that flirted with spoken word amid verses that were caught in a give-and-take between elastic synths and waves of cymbal crashes.
Brown isn't the easiest of artists to characterize. "Travelling Like the Light" was a sugar-rush of diversity, balancing hip-hop swagger with harmonies and arrangements that were a nod to the heyday of girl groups. While there's been plenty of vintage-minded female artists in the last few years, Brown's flashes of doo-wop, surf-rock and video game playfullness stood apart from any current trends.
Early signs are that "Lollipops & Politics" won't see Brown reined in. A slight misstep Monday night was her new song "Famous," in which images of celebrity culture and cash weren't more than surface deep. Yet Brown isn't out to lecture her audience, and as she waved her cape-like black shawl, she emphasized the song's big beats and cartooonish electronics rather than its message.
Set opener "Tough Like Glue" channeled a '70s soul vibe, with thick, juicy bass-lines, a sputtering drum and outer-space effects. Brown, who can scat, growl, howl or inspire couples to hold hands, doesn't need much flexing from her backing group, and the song was accentuated with a simple call-and-response chant of "na-na-na." The smaller room didn't play up Brown's synthesized symphonic flourishes, but even stripped down, her songs are more jovial than gritty.
The rest of the night was more competent than unexpected. Young Aussie Grace Woodroofe, backed Monday night by Ben Harper's musicians, performed one of the world's most tidy covers of the Stooge's "I Wanna Be Your Dog," and her flavor of the blues was Laurel Canyon neat. Adan Jodorowsky, meanwhile, played the role of the lover-boy matador as the leader of Adanowsky, with his tastefully slavish Spanish and Parisian influences designed to make the girls swoon.
Brown, however, was far more elusive. The best of the new tracks was "Red Balloon"; its washboard rhythms, gleaming synths and constantly revving-up guitar were unlike anything else in her set. Lyrically, it was a pep, and proof that feel-good pop needn't feel familiar.
V V Brown also plays Wednesday at the Hotel Cafe, 1623 Cahuenga Blvd., at 7 p.m
-- Todd Martens
Photo: V V Brown. Credit: Paul Kalirai / Capitol Records