Editors’ Notes “I don’t know where it went, really,” Lianne La Havas tells Apple Music of the time between the release of her stunning second album Blood, in 2015, and her self-titled third record, delivered in 2020. “Lots was happening—and nothing.” In 2016 she toured with Coldplay (“Something I couldn’t not do”) and Leon Bridges (“extremely fun”), after which La Havas thought she’d settle down to write album number three. Two years later, she was still drawing a blank. “I was trying really hard, but I realized I couldn’t force it,” she says. “I just had to live my life a bit.” The inspiration came, at last, in 2019, in the form of a series of “big life changes—stuff in my personal life, family, relationships.” Lianne La Havas was finished before the year’s end. “Once I made those changes, it was the catalyst for the clarity of what I needed to write and how I needed to do it. Once I knew what to do, the process was quick.”

The result is a record that harnesses the power of the bold, bass-imbued sounds of Blood—and then takes it up a level. The beats are heavier and the influences wider-ranging, from R&B (“my musical upbringing”) to Brazilian music (La Havas has been an avid fan for the last decade) and Radiohead, whose song “Weird Fishes” the singer gives her powerful take on midway through the album. “I feel like this is the first time my influences are more defined,” says La Havas. “But the album still sounds like me. It’s maybe the most me I’ve ever sounded, which is what I want.” Lianne La Havas is, too, a moving exploration of those seismic shifts that prompted the record’s inception and, in particular, the life cycle of a relationship. There’s the heady infatuation of those early days (“Read My Mind”), the devastating moment cracks begin to show (“Paper Thin”), and, finally, the slow, precarious process of putting yourself back together after a painful end (see “Sour Flower,” the album’s gorgeous, sprawling, jazz-imbibed outro). “This is my first album that is actually a full story where you can hear a beginning, middle, and an end,” says La Havas. She adds, as reassurance, “I’m all right now. Get to the last song on this album and you will know that I am totally fine!” More than that, this is the most self-assured the singer has ever sounded. “I’d lost a bit of confidence and got insecure about everything,” she says. “As I completed each piece of the story on this album, it made me a bit stronger. With each song, I realized that I could do it—that I could finish something I was proud of.” Let La Havas guide you through her triumphant album, track by track.

Bittersweet
“I started this song a long time ago and it was actually one of the contenders for my second album. This album is plotting a timeline, and lyrically this song is an overview of what’s to come. And the entire album is bittersweet—if it wasn’t self-titled, it would be called Bittersweet. Sonically, it’s also quite a statement. There’s nothing else really like it on the album, and it felt appropriate to start with this. As for the repetition of lyrics in this song: I really like poetry, and I was influenced by some of the poetry I was reading at the time and the idea of repeating a word to give it this whole different meaning.”

Read My Mind
“When I made this song, it made me feel slightly intoxicated. I wanted it to be reminiscent of that—like a night out where you meet someone and there's this hazy, wondrous, excited feeling that you can't quite describe. I worked with [British songwriter and producer] Bruno Major on this. He's just the most amazing guitarist, and when I heard the music, it just made me feel like I was on a date. So it had to be about what it's about. It’s got humor and lightness, but I wanted to be very literal in the right way about the overwhelming urge to give yourself away.”

Green Papaya
“A love letter, basically. You’ve got one another now and you want to make it a thing—to solidify the commitment in some way. It’s not really about physical love—it’s about making a home and doing all those things that come after the flirtatious infatuation. It's like, ‘Actually this could be a really great thing. And I want you to know that I believe it could be that.’ The whole track is very vulnerable—it’s hard to say those things for real at the best of times. That’s why sonically it felt best not to have any drums. I gave all the types of production that you can do a fair shot, but it just wasn’t the same.”

Can’t Fight
“There’s a little bit more humor here. It’s like when your conscience is talking to you. And because of the sound of the lilting guitar, it always felt like a cartoon conscience to me. It feels very animated, but with some quite serious themes at the center of it. I just wasn’t done being happy yet in this song. I was still very optimistic and everything is still pretty good. The music makes you bound a bit. I like how the ending came together—I don’t really do a lot of strings, and I’ve never been a string person. But with this one, because it’s so light-sounding with that quite serious content in the lyrics, I thought the strings brought that serious element to it. I think it ended up being the perfect balance.”

Paper Thin
“The very first song written for this album, but one of the last to be finished. I was falling asleep four years ago and I just heard that guitar part. It was like, ‘Should I get up? Should I record this? Should I just sleep on it?’ But I got up and thought about the lyric ‘paper thin.’ I heard all the chords for each section of the song, and I had the first line. It stayed that way for a long time. Anytime I would get a moment alone—say on a plane or something—the lyrics would start to make themselves apparent for the song. I think this one is maybe the most intimate and most vulnerable that I get, because the person is talking really candidly with the other person in the song. The pain is starting to show about how hard it can be when the person you're trying to love is maybe not in the same space as you, or maybe hasn't dealt with some things that they might need to deal with. I'm not saying I'm perfect. I'm not saying the narrator is perfect. But it's recognizing the pain of somebody you really care about and wanting to help them, but not knowing how. Again, I thought sonically it would be appropriate to just have barely anything on it. And it's really all about the lyrics and the groove.”

Out of Your Mind (Interlude)
“This is the descent. When you go, ‘You know what? This isn’t for me.’ It doesn’t really have any words, it’s just sounds, but they’re murmurings of trying to work it out and then something sort of clicks. It’s the moment you flip. I wanted there to be a definite line under the first section of the album. When I first made an album, I had no idea how you would pick the order. How do you put your first album together? How do you know what to say first and last? And a piece of advice that I was given was, just think of it like it's a vinyl. Side A and side B. So every album now, I've always just thought of side A and side B. And this one is the first one that is actually a full story that you can have a beginning, middle, and end. And for me, that is the middle, the absolute middle.”

Weird Fishes
“I sat and the looked at the lyrics to this song—which I love—and they felt really appropriate to what was happening in my life. Even the final lyric—‘I’ll hit the bottom and escape’—felt totally where I was at. The first time I played this song was at Glastonbury back in 2013 with my band. Somebody put it on YouTube, and I just loved this version. I was so happy with our arrangement. We’re not the same anymore, but we’re all still mates, so it was a lovely memento of that time we had together. I recorded this with a new band, and from that day I was like, ‘This is obviously how I’ve got to do the rest of the album: with my band, all in a room.’ We all get on, they're all sick musicians. So that's how it happened really. It just sort of all clicked in my head and everything felt right lyrically and with the personnel.”

Please Don’t Make Me Cry
“This is a loop and it's nice, because I got to explore that hip-hop way of writing, that R&B, which I just love. I grew up on all of that stuff. I love how it makes me sing too. I did it with a dear friend of mine, [US musician] Nick Hakim. He’s an incredible, humble guy with an incredible voice, and he’s maybe one of the best songwriters out there. I could spend days with him. I was getting frustrated with my lack of output and thought, ‘Fuck it. I’m going to New York and I’m going to see Nick.’ I was there for three weeks or so and did a bunch of songs. This one felt special and just said everything it needed to. He has amazing instruments available, amazing textures. And he's just such a brilliant producer. I just love every single choice of sound he had. I was just like, yeah, that's great. So this song has ended up quite thick in texture, but I love that, because it's quite contrasting with the rest of it and I really love that style. I was able to just chuck loads of stuff at it, and it never felt crowded.”

Seven Times
“My Blu Cantrell moment. Again, it’s that R&B which was a really big part of my musical upbringing. I was on a bit of a journey, I think, at this point, and I was finding my confidence and finding my own voice again. I was having an okay time. I was feeling very free and feeling like I’d come home to something or from somewhere and then just dancing in my house to all the music I listened to when I was 12. And then at the same time, again, I was listening to loads of Brazilian music. For me, this song is all my favorite R&B and all my favorite Brazilian music merged. And then I also got to give a piece of my mind in the lyrics. Once the demo was made, my band did their thing on it. I just love the groove, I love the chords, I love the melody. I love the lyrics. I love everything about it. I love the flute solo. I wanted to say that even though this thing has happened, it doesn’t mean that I’m completely out of the woods. It’s an ongoing process of self-care and getting yourself back on your feet after a bad thing.”

Courage
“Milton Nascimento, one of my favorite Brazilian artists, has an album called Courage. And during one of my darker times over the last few years, a friend of mine recommended that album to me. And then I wrote this song, and it wasn't going to be called that for a while. But then that word is just such a good word. I guess the song takes you to the most vulnerable point of just admitting that you're lonely and it's really hard and it feels like the pain is never going to end—even if it might've been your decision. It was a particularly confusing type of pain. The music was written with a friend of mine, Joe Harrison, who played bass on ‘Paper Thin’ too. He's just an amazing guitarist and songwriter. During those five years where everything and nothing was happening, I was doing a writing camp—I think, basically, my label panicked and wanted to give me the tools to try and make music. I ended up in the studio with lots of incredible musicians, but not much of it was right. One day, I remember I was feeling particularly alone in this process and I called Joe. I was like, ‘Hey, are you in LA right now? Please will you come to the studio?’ And I made everyone get out of the room so that me and Joe could just be in the studio together. And we just wrote that thing in about 10 minutes. That was my piece of beautiful treasure from that weird time creatively that I was having.”

Sour Flower
“‘Sour flower’ is a phrase my great-grandmother used to say. Meaning ‘That's your sour flower, that's your problem, you deal with it.’ She was Jamaican and would say stuff like that, and I’d be like, ‘What does that mean?’ Later on, I was talking to Matt Hales, who I write a lot with, about her old phrases. We always wanted to get one of them onto a song. And that one just seemed appropriate. It's your journey, it's your issue, your cross to bear. For me, this song is all about the self-love and the self-care to restore yourself after whatever monumental derailment. I think it's ultimately a positive ending. But also, I wanted to have that long outro as well, to represent the ongoing work that the person is doing on themselves to improve things. The song is fully live—we all were playing together in the room, and it just feels like I should have done that earlier in my career. Of course there were some changes and then I was like, ‘No, we have to have that very first version, please.’ I'm glad that it ended up as it was on the day that we did it.”

SONG
Bittersweet (Full Length)
1
4:52
 
Read My Mind
2
4:48
 
Green Papaya
3
4:05
 
Can't Fight
4
3:10
 
Paper Thin
5
4:58
 
Out of Your Mind (interlude)
6
1:04
 
Weird Fishes
7
5:54
 
Please Don't Make Me Cry
8
5:14
 
Seven Times
9
3:30
 
Courage
10
3:38
 
Sour Flower
11
6:47
 
Bittersweet
12
3:56
 

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