Let’s get one thing out of the way right off the bat: Louise Burns used to be in the squeaky-clean pop group Lillix. In case you need a refresher, Lillix was semi-famous in the early part of last decade, signing to a subsidiary of Warner and writing songs with the ultra-commercial hit machine the Matrix (Avril Lavigne, Katy Perry, Shakira). The band cropped up on Hollywood movie soundtracks like 13 Going on 30 and Freaky Friday, and they got plenty of play on MuchMusic.
Despite these inauspicious beginnings, there’s nothing prefab about Burns’ solo debut, Mellow Drama. In a press release announcing the album, the Vancouver-based singer-songwriter espoused ’50s and ’60s rock ‘n’ roll, saying, “There’s no bullshit. They didn’t have access to all these whistles, bells, and Auto-Tune, and no matter what you do with it, it’s just a good song.”
There’s definitely no bullshit on Mellow Drama. These 12 tracks are pop in its purest form, with infectious melodies paired with raw guitars and punchy drums that sound like they were cut live off the floor. The single “What Do You Wanna Do” sets its melancholic lyrics and brittle guitar tone against a bubblegum bounce, while the fuzzy “Paper Cup” brims with eerie organs and twangy surf licks.
Given Burns’ love of stripped-down recordings, it’s not too surprising that Mellow Drama is a gem of a decidedly unpolished variety. The guitar plucking on the barebones acoustic waltz “Island Vacation” is noticeably clunky, and Burns has a tendency to sing slightly out of her range, which means that she strains to hit the high notes on “Teen Angst.”
Such moments, however, are all part of Mellow Drama’s charm. Burns’ songwriting chops here are undeniable. The sultry “Burning Bridges” sounds like a long-lost Pretenders cut (in quality as well as style), while the mid-tempo strummer “Drop Names Not Bombs” winds its infectious melody around quivering call-and-response harmonies.
It remains to be seen whether Burns’ solo work will achieve the same mainstream success as Lillix. But as anyone who checks out Mellow Drama will hear, Burns doesn’t need the Matrix (or anyone else) to help her write a winning pop song.