UK singer-songwriter Victoria Hesketh is in it for the music. She’s the type of artist who needs daring chord changes, melancholic turns of phrase and stacked up synthesisers in order to survive. Ties-ins with Tuc biscuits, regular Daily Mail side-bar of shame appearances and residencies on The Voice, or is it X-Factor now? She’s having no part of it thank you. As a pop star in 2015 this attitude can be seen as either noble or naive but Hesketh has never been concerned with that kind of think piece. Little Boots is back with her third album and Working Girl is the sound of an artist who is, appropriately enough, calling the shots and looking to smash all glass ceilings that may get in her way.
Much has been made of the direction that Hesketh’s career has taken since she topped the BBC’s Sound of 2009 award. Her debut album of that year, Hands, was accessibly eccentric, very British and often brilliant electro-pop, but Little Boots failed to become the household name nearly every corner of the Internet predicted. Nocturnes followed it up in 2013, and it arrived with a lot less hype, was slightly less lustrous and occasionally lacked energy. Working Girl, released on Hesketh’s On Repeat Records, radiates a far sharper if more compact sound than her second record. It’s loosely conceptual and follows the day-to-day life of a woman working in the business world circa 1988 – the year of Melanie Griffith’s character in the film of the same name.
Opening on a sardonic answering machine message, the album’s first third sees the Office Angels pun lines coming thick and fast. Over the course of the title track, ‘No Pressure’ and the almost outrageously bassy ‘Get Things Done’, Hesketh flits from handbag-house to UK garage and the kind of commercial dance music that Cathy Dennis was making as a solo artist when she covered Fonda Rae’s ‘Touch Me’ in the early nineties.
‘Taste It’, which first appeared on last year’s Business Pleasure EP, temporarily deviates from this lyrical and sonic template with an experimental and rhythmically spacious R&B track. It has a more explicit sexuality with Hesketh asking ‘Can you taste it on your lips like liquorice? Do want some more? So bittersweet’ whilst coming off like a home-grown and more self-conscious Lumidee whose 2003 hit, ‘Never Leave (Uh Ooh, Uh Ooh)’, it in part resembles.
‘Real Girl’ is near the album’s half-way point, and although the tracks proceeding it help to embed a strong enough direction, it is the first of the record’s several highlights with the standard established here being satisfyingly high. Unlike the pop-house of the opening tracks, ‘Real Girl’ has a rattling and propulsive electronic energy that takes us back to Little Boots’ synth-pop beginnings and is a storm of stonking, stuttering effects and razor-sharp melodies. ‘Business Pleasure’ was a little lost when featured in its EP home last year but thrives here with its retro Yazoo ‘Don’t Go’ keyboard lines and images of motorways and power failures, girls and machines.
‘Back to the real world, back to the grey’ is the key phrase from the Neil Tenant aping, Pet Shop Boys sounding ‘Paradise’ with some gorgeously sad italo-house piano to boot. ‘Help Too’, the album’s crushingly vulnerable, utterly exquisite electronic ballad may be the best song, and performance, that Hesketh has given to date.
The final track on Working Girl completes a superb run of songs with ‘Better In the Morning’. Already released as a single, Hesketh’s droll and funky mid-tempo telling of the morning after the weeknight before is crammed with fantastic, rubbery noises and its ‘doo-doo-doo’ hook all hinged around Tom Tom Club’s massively influential 1981 hit ‘Genius of Love’ drum sample and hand-claps. ‘Better In the Morning’ encapsulates everything which makes Little Boots such a unique proposition in a very crowded marketplace: great songs, genuine artistic individuality and an almost palpable love for the job that she does. ‘Working Girl’ has all the hallmarks of a pop star who is refreshingly fearless and could maybe still become the boss of them all.