Lianne La Havas' album title seems to be a very important question for her -- Is your love big enough? The title-track expands on the question, adding, "...for what's to come," but methinks that the question just below her name on the album cover can be interpreted differently -- as in, "Is your love big enough to be compared to mine?" And based on the album's contents, La Havas would surely have to answer confidently, "No." Every song is relentlessly romantic, either a testament to the existence of La Havas' love and her belief in it, or an intense recounting of failed and/or unrequited love. This is at once captivating and tiring. On "Lost and Found" La Havas is somehow able to sing "You broke me/You taught me/To truly hate myself" without sounding at all melodramatic, instead sounding endearingly stark. But by the tenth song or so, the on-the-head professions of the heart have lost their appeal. We get it, Lianne -- no one loves as big as you do.
The London-born La Havas first made waves when she performed alongside Bon Iver on Later... With Jools Holland, a performance that eventually led to a stint opening for the Wisconsin-based band. Is Your Love Big Enough? is evidence that La Havas learned a thing or two from Justin Vernon and company -- its production cues, musical intonation, and rigid focus on love all resemble For Emma, Forever Ago and to a lesser extent Bon Iver. Which isn't the worst thing, really. But where Bon Iver's two albums have been expansive, Lianne La Havas' first effort too often feels static and overly familiar.
It's more of a mild criticism than a condemnation, because La Havas' foundation is extremely promising -- her smoother-than-smooth guitar-playing and her playfully seductive voice -- and the album's best songs are alluring and wonderfully understated. The album begins with the "Woods"-reminiscent vocal harmonies of "Don't Wake Me Up," forebodingly sounding like the chorus of a Greek tragedy play. The song really cements itself as a keeper midway through though when the harmonies cut and La Havas' singular voice is left to wax. From there, La Havas changes gears with the percussively soulful "Is Your Love Big Enough?" It's a shame that this is the only time she lets herself and her sliding guitar have fun -- because she's clearly capable of being a more talented Joss Stone. Other highlights include the out-of-character "Forget" and the witty ode to dating older men, "Age."
The lack of motion on Is Your Love Big Enough? holds it back from being a standout debut. Maybe it's just a track-listing issue, but the late run of "Everything Everything" to "Tease Me" is tough to get through and unfortunately overshadows some of the impressive work that La Havas put together on songs one through eight. Often, such is the state of debut albums -- an artist does what comes easiest to them, sticks with what works. But I'm confident that the next time around, La Havas will find her away out of the ballad-abyss and will feel more comfortable stretching her talent, taking risks and hitting her listeners with much more dynamism.