Album review: Femme – Debutante

John Preston

South London based music obsessive with strong opinions about most things. Doubts Madonna has another good record in her but would love more than anything to be proved wrong.
John Preston

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‘Fever Boy’ is the first track proper on Femme’s long-time coming, debut album Debutante. Released some two and a half years ago, ‘Fever Boy’ is the perfect distillation of Laura Bettinson’s (AKA Femme) distinct and routinely raucous sound. Combining the kitsch pop sensibility of 90s rapper Betty Boo with a post-punk eye-rolling disdain for anything that might approach the respectable, the chorus of ‘Fever Boy’ then transitions into an unexpectedly glorious, sparkling 60s girl-group call-and-response heaven.

‘You can be my fever boy! / I can be your bullet girl!’ might be the closest Femme gets to unadulterated and smeary pop perfection on Debutante, but the opening quartet of tracks packs an incredible amount into tunes where every second is considered. It’s economic maybe (Debutante‘s playing time is little over half an hour) but quality as opposed to endless mediocre repetition is Femme’s thing. Her accomplishments as singer-songwriter-producer, especially in a genre which depends on labels throwing money at the latest commercially viable producers, is impressive.

‘S.O.S’, another older track, has a thundering, spell-checking hook that sounds as captivating and relevant now as ‘B.A.B.Y’ must have done when Diane Ferazz sang it in 1967.

‘Bring it Back Round’ – with its isolated bass booms, manically clacking percussion and pitched effects – has elements of early Switch-produced MIA and Santigold songs.

On the breezy and cock-sure ‘Romeo’, Bettinson welcomely re-embraces the kind of British, working class persona that has long been swept away by American corporate identi-pop. Songs like this are short, sharp shocks to the system, not composed by a writing team of a dozen, but laced with the kind of hooks that these kind of workshops sweat and pray for.

On ‘Gold’, one of Debutante’s many highlights, there are fantastically effective – and subtle – key changes that appear on top of a hypnotically rolling synth part that induces flashbacks to Herbie Hancock’s ‘Rockit’.

‘Dumb Blonde’ has a mighty curled lip attitude and the part-rapped ‘Double Trouble’ is all multi-melodies and minor-key mood swings.

A blink-and-you’ll-miss-it vulnerability finally comes into view on the beatless and swoonsome ‘Calling All Stars’: ‘I’m just a girl on the water’s edge and I’m not quite sure if I want to jump in yet.’ This is the one track on Debutante that could have featured on Bettinson’s glitchy and more earnest previous project from 2012 with Nigel Godrich (Radiohead), Ultraista.

Laura Bettinson may feel at times like an overly retro-indebted artist and would likely acknowledge that her influences have been sounds that were massively successful and intrinsically responsible for, or part of, important pop cultural movements that took place over the last decade or four. Although there are nods to the past, frequently this debut is more modern and fresh sounding than the majority of Bettinson’s current contemporaries. Debutante is a smart and timely introduction to the restless, self-reliant world of Femme – and if you’re tough enough, she might just concede to becoming your bullet girl.

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