Thursday, November 09, 2006

Music Review: The Long Blondes - "Someone to Drive You Home"

About a year ago, singles from a group called the Long Blondes started appearing in England, and they blew away everyone who had the chance to hear them (even if they had to get bootlegged compilations of the singles in the states, which was often the case). The perfect blend of Chrissie-Hynde guitars, pop melodies (though, let's be honest - a lot of what the Pretenders did was pop, anyways), and the absolutely sexy and sultry voice of vocalist Kate Jackson. Ever since then, many have been wondering, "when will they get a deal and get an album out?" Well, no more waiting in England-that time is now (no word on when it will officially arrive in the States, though it is available as an import, and is WELL worth the money).

The wait was worth it. The album immediately kicks out of the gate with Jackson's voice oozing sex in the previously-released single, "Lust in the Movies," an apparently simple song that at first seems to be talking about obsession, yet is also a statement on female sexuality, as Jackson remains uninterested in the man as anything other than a sexual object, all to the rollicking chorus of "Edie Sedgwick! Anna Karenina! Arlene Dahl! I just want to be a sweetheart!" Feminine sexual power continues throughout, as Jackson encourages teenage girls to leave their boyfriends in "Once and Never Again" and mocking men about less-than-satisfying relationships with other women in "Giddy Stratospheres" ("Watch movies, with the lights on/Sit still, keep her tights on"). However, the songs aren't simple sex-driven songs. The smart obscure pop culture references from the 1950s, 1960s, and 1970s make everything sassier and far more intelligent than any debut probably has the right to be, mentioning the effects of listening to "listening to Saint Scott Walker" in the killer "You Could Have Both," and writing about photographer-muse Lee Miller in "Madame Ray."

The music is incredibly catchy and delightful, too, combining New Wave and punk guitars with post-punk bass lines. Additionally, while three of the songs ("Lust in the Movies," "Giddy Stratospheres," and "Separated by Movies") have appeared in single form, they've been touched up, and the Long Blondes have had a year to refine their songwriting, making the songs even tighter and better. We aren't talking complex time meters or radical shifts in structure of music, of course - they're still pop songs at their core. But they're DAMN fine pop songs.

However, it's Jackson's voice that makes everything, whether it's her sassy declarations of sexual desire in "In the Company of Women" and the unbelievabely great "You Could Have Both" (with a wonderful talking interlude that could peel the panties off the ladies and the boxers of the gentlemen, which is appropriate enough given the subtle and vague suggestion of bisexual relationships), the wounded plea of "Heaven Help the New Girl," the absolutely scathing, banshee-like "Separated by Motorways," and the melodically cool appeal of "A Knife for the Girls". Adding to the fun is the Raincoats-style, shout-out background vocals in tracks like "Giddy Stratospheres," "Lust in the Movies," and others, giving the music a joy rarely seen out of England recently, even if the lyrics are darker.

The relentlessly catchy, sexy, and seductive songs never go away at any point throughout the 45-minute album, ending on the outstanding "Knife for the Girls," which ends, perfectly, with instruments fading as we are left with Jackson's perfect voice calling for the protagonist to not "go to London." Outstanding as the music is, it's Jackson's voice that makes the Long Blondes, and it's perfect to end with her voice by itself, leaving us only wanting more. Forget the Arctic Monkeys - THIS is the debut of the year.

5.5/6 square glasses