Pixie Lott, Forum, London

 

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The Independent Culture

A far-from full venue on a chilly Wednesday: hardly the ideal location to launch a new album, though to judge by outward appearances, Pixie Lott would not have it any other way.

The 20-year-old Essex girl struts across the stage enthusing her compact audience to show their appreciation, even if there is little feedback on the night. "Tell me what you think online," she suggests.

It is a low-key return for a pop starlet whose debut album, 2009's Turn It Up, earned multiple platinum discs. Yet despite successive number one hits, Lott has struggled to carve out a distinctive niche, caught somewhere between Amy Winehouse retro soul and Girls Aloud polished buoyancy. Due out next month, her follow-up, Young Foolish Happy, has already been preceded by another chart-topping single, "All About Tonight" and a forthcoming collaboration with rapper Pusha T suggests a more streetwise direction.

Still, tonight's set misses that portion of her fanbase denied entry by a 14-plus age limit. Sporting feline ears, Lott calls them "cats" in lame imitation of Lady Gaga's Little Monsters, with a result that is as domesticated as the name suggests. Recordtitles may hint at a devil-may-care outlook, but Lott is a canny operator with many strings to her bow. Already described as a model and actor, she launched a fashion line earlier this year.

Tonight, Lott sings of the desperate excitement of the weekend, but even with a newfound smokiness to her vocals, she delivers all the passion of a student singing in school assembly. Networking, however, apparently comes easily to the former stage school attendee. In Los Angeles, she got to work with Stevie Wonder and was "overwhelmed". A recording supplies his recognisably chirpy harmonica solo on "Stevie On The Radio". In New York, Lott hooked up with John Legend, because "I wanted to write something". The result, "You Win", is the performer's most affecting ballad to date, with a delicacy not even her clumsy emoting can derail.

On "Everybody Hurts Sometimes", by contrast, Lott mangles every note, as if to disguise its banality in both content and tune. Her band, meanwhile, plod along anonymously in the shadows, bar the guitarist's incongruous snatch of "Voodoo Chile"on "What Do You Take Me For?" They display a creditable range, from those piano-led weepies through sassy r'n'b to funky house. Pixie Lott, though, only has two settings and convinces at neither.

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