The first time I heard the music of Lauren Henson, aka Indiana, was when I saw the video for her recent single ‘Solo Dancing’ while flicking through the music channels on Sky. The video instantly stood out as brilliant, a weird and memorable collection of odd images such as Indiana polishing some brass and berating a jar of gherkins that was entirely different from the videos that surrounded it. After a few more listens, it was clear that ‘Solo Dancing’ itself was also a great pop single; it builds and threatens without a pay-off and is dominated by Henson’s eerie whispers of “the music stops…and the spell is broken.”
‘Solo Dancing’ is a fantastic example of one of the best types of pop song – namely the ‘electro featuring icy-sounding ladies singing about feeling lonely in clubs’ pop song – and while the single dominates Indiana’s debut album No Romeo, there is plenty more to enjoy across the album’s thirteen songs. At times, however, No Romeo is an album that doesn’t quite understand what its own strengths are, making it as frustrating and inconsistent as it is full of potential.
It starts well: ‘Never Born’ is a surprisingly forceful opener, with Henson singing “I’m gonna make you wish you were never born” in a voice so lacking in emotion that it becomes all the scarier, and a guitar comes in unexpectedly towards the end to make it even more impressively bombastic. This and ‘Solo Dancing’ make the album’s first two songs very hard to fault, which makes the subsequent four or five song slump even more disappointing. ‘Play Dead’ sounds like filler material and the vocals come across as dull rather than menacing, while ‘Blind as I Am’ is an aimless ballad without any real atmosphere. ‘A New Heart’ is bland and features synths that sound like someone messing about on keyboards in a shop.
All of this could lead to the conclusion that the album’s very good first two songs were flukes and that the rest is a disappointment, but then it gets back on track. ‘Bound’ sort of sounds like Nine Inch Nails and has the threat and intrigue that the middle section of the album sorely misses. ‘Shadow Flash,’ another late highlight, has a great big chorus but also some odd little details, such as brass sections and a deep male voice saying “continue” that don’t quite fit with the sound of the rest of the album and are all the better for it. These songs, as well as grandiose closer ‘Mess Around,’ make it hard not to wonder why a lot of the album is so weak when it also contains songs as good as these.
No Romeo is best when it intentionally sounds robotic and anonymous, not when it does so by accident as on the album’s duller, more forgettable songs. Complaints aside, however, there is enough good stuff here to suggest that the follow-up to No Romeo could be the consistently great electronic-pop album that this hints at so often but, ultimately, doesn’t quite manage to be.