Singer-songwriter Louisa Allen – also known as Foxes – has always been way more than the feature on a Zedd track. Her 2014 debut album Glorious proved as such and the following All I Need even more so; both having a lot of gems that deserved to be unearthed by poptimists (“Lose My Cool”, “Scar” anyone?).
In a four-year hiatus devoid of new music from her, the world has changed drastically and people fundamentally crave the escapism of pop more than ever. Foxes shows she is clearly attuned to that need with her third studio album The Kick, which is probably her most exuberant project thus far. Don’t think about the word ‘kick’ as an act of physical violence involving feet – in the context of this album, it’s more like the kick you receive after consuming your third Red Bull of the day during a long work shift. The project provides a much-needed and mostly consistent energy boost, utilising an array of 80s-influenced sounds to explore yearnings for a simpler time, heartbreak and romance in equal measure.
“Sister Ray”, as both lead single and album opener, best illustrates the glimmering and glittering dance sound of The Kick. Named after the grimy track of the same name by the Velvet Underground, Foxes yearns for the simpler, celebratory times of her youth where heartbreak is casual and expected yet enticing nonetheless. “It’s your love / It’s mythical / A ritual / Moving like a knife / It’s close enough / It’s dangerous,” she sings over scaled, kaleidoscopic synths. This track feels more appropriate a comeback track for Foxes than last year’s “Love Not Loving You” – which, although good, didn’t quite provide the appropriate punch after such a hiatus. With its Robyn-nesque production, Foxes feels like she fully dived into the pop world without any hesitation.
The title track is a euphoric highlight that radiates realistic positivity (“But I know if you picture somewhere better / Maybe you’ll get there”) and is transfixing from the start. Over glorious, bouncy production Foxes spins a catchy tune about perseverance and overcoming demons as she advises: “Listen to the ghost but don’t feed it / Every time you do you lose spirit.” This track embodies why pop is called pop – it invokes a temporary high within its three minutes and 20 seconds that makes you feel invincible. Foxes also encourages redemption and learning from your past on “Forgive Yourself” because “It’s easy when it’s somebody else.” These two tracks make a great pair for those times when you need to dance away self-analysis and frustration.
Recent single “Growing On Me” takes a more 80s-rock influence with its flourishes of electric guitar, synth stabs and dynamic drums. It finds Foxes in a state of alienation and cynicism after an awry relationship and the accompanying reluctant journey to start opening your heart again upon meeting someone new (“I let somebody bury me / You, I think you’re growing on me.”) It’s important to note that this track, alongside many tracks on The Kick, are not necessarily breaking new ground or convention lyrically, but Foxes delivers these universal themes with sincerity and earnestness that allows the songs to be enjoyed for what they are. For example, the incredibly catchy “Dance Magic” explores the typical dynamic of an on-and-off relationship (“Make up to break up / It’s better right? / Make up to break up / We like it like that”) without any sense of pathos. When the deep piano chords and heavenly alien synths of the chorus arrive in a glorious crescendo and Foxes sings “But when we dance magic / Ohhh!” it is compelling and addictive, reminding us that pop music is satisfying as its most simple and melodic.
The tempo abruptly changes on the nostalgic “Body Suit”, which is undoubtedly the slow-dance moment of the album – albeit one that rooted in a romantic sadness. It embodies the cheesy 80s pop ballad unapologetically in the production and is slightly offset by the lyrics: “It’s like you’re taking me dancing / Making me move / You get under my body suit.” While it alludes to being connected to someone so fully that their absence is physically felt, its still an interesting choice of metaphor which, ultimately, hardly detracts from the feeling that you’re swaying beneath a slowly rotating disco ball.
Things return back to the uptempo with the most explosive track on The Kick, “Absolute”, which feels less 80s in sound, instead edging towards the 21st century. The following funky bop “Two Kinds of Silence” begins with Foxes declaring “Now you know I’m never gonna sit with this / No, never gonna live with this / This kind of goodbye.” For a track so peppy and upbeat, this is a great example of Pathos Pop where deep hurts are disguised by exuberant production. It lyrically depicts how relationships don’t always conclude dramatically – sometimes the passion and excitement just slowly siphons off (“And our love is never violent / But it’s quiet / And it’s almost worse.”)
Although Foxes has a very sweet voice, she adds a little venom on “Gentleman”, which is the album’s most aggrieved track while still maintaining an upbeat nature. She details how her relationship with the “gentleman” in question went from sweet to sour (“You drove me to paradise / And pushed me out of the car”) across a throwback 80s sound including the appealing detail of added saxophones. It’s the type of melodramatic song where you put your pride aside and acknowledge that the relationship stung you quite a lot (“Oh my head in my hands / You threw my love like nothing / Oh my cut out so fast / And I never saw it coming”) yet presented in a fun enough way that there’s a sense of catharsis too.
Concluding the album with piano and strings ballad “Too Much Colour” after the high energy of prior tracks feels a bit of an anticlimax. With that being said, the song in isolation is quite beautiful and features Foxes’ most emotive vocal performance on the album with some devastating lyrics (“And I feel alive / But I know / Oh I know / That I won’t be alive for long.”) The only issue with this track is that it unravels the cohesion of The Kick. In terms of finishing the album with a bang, the anthemic “Sky Love” with its modernised dance production and soaring chorus, would’ve done the job nicely. It’s not that Foxes’ ballads aren’t good (one only needs to listen to “Devil Side” to know she delivers them well), but perhaps this would’ve been better placed on another project.
It seems the 80s pop trend remains strong after so many years and why not? The synth-led soundscapes provide a great backdrop to exploring a range of emotions in an inherently upbeat, danceable way as Foxes demonstrates on The Kick. Not every pop album has to reinvent the genre or incorporate some sort of edgy aesthetic to be a great listen – sometimes you just need the various hurdles and complications of existing to be presented in the pleasurable form of pop music. This is a worthy comeback for the singer that is fun, catchy, bright and ultimately another addition to the canon of necessary, escapist music we need to forget the world’s impending descent into madness.