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Blonde Ambition

It’s extremely likely that any heavily hyped Brit indie bands you encounter at present are going to be some combination of postpunk and Britpop touchstones; there’s also a pretty high chance that they’ll be complete shit, because postpunk’s proven to be a difficult pose to cop if you don’t have the requisite sense of adventure to counterbalance the atonal guitar riffs. And Britpop’s just a fucking horrendous thing to want to sound like in the first place.

Sheffield’s newest bright hopes, the Long Blondes, seem to be aware of this. Their bio claims that their altogether more lofty aim is “to form a fantasy pop group: Nico, Nancy Sinatra, Diana Dors, Barbara Windsor. Sexy and literate, flippant and heartbreaking all at once.” It also shrewdly aligns them with the likes of Pulp and the Human League, fellow Sheffield residents who managed the deceptively difficult task of balancing a sardonic and arty façade with some measure of pop appeal. The Blondes spent three years honing this craft while working day jobs, sneaking days off to play in New York, Stockholm and Barcelona and keeping record companies at arm’s length until they finally capitulated to the advances of Rough Trade (U.K.) earlier this year.

It’s clear that the balancing act of intelligence, glamour and pop ambition is important to them; in interviews they rhapsodise about the Shangri-Las and Dusty Springfield as much as their more obvious stylistic forebears. For all this, 20 seconds into their debut album, Someone to Drive You Home, and they sure sound a lot like Elastica, which is less encouraging. Then again, singer Kate Jackson seems to alternate vocal styles a fair bit: Sometimes she’s on that slightly annoying Justine Frischmann intonation shit, while elsewhere she sounds like Lesley Woods from the Au Pairs with a more impressive vocal range. The latter is a much more exciting prospect — on the verses of “Giddy Stratospheres” (one of several “what the fuck are you doing with her?”–type narratives) she moves seamlessly from a formidable snarl to a keening falsetto, and it sounds utterly fantastic. As she modestly pointed out to the British fanzine Artrocker: “There’s a lot of female-vocaled bands who are just like, ‘punk shout shout shout shout.’ Either that or it’s that very indie twee-girlie ‘la la la’ melody. And I’m singing a song from my fucking heart. And not many female-fronted bands — I can’t think of another one that does that. That’s why we’re a pop band.”

Jackson has a similarly commanding presence on the raucous, Sleater-Kinney–like racket of a single “Separated by Motorways,” and “Only Lovers Left Alive,” in which she outlines a plan to get the Boy by just patiently waiting for everyone else to die. (The lyrics are actually largely written by the band’s male guitarist, Dorian Cox.) The trouble is, the musical accompaniment doesn’t always do justice to their noble art-pop intentions; for the most part it’s your standard nuance-lacking indie guitar-chug. Only the sprawling, Pulp-like epic “You Could Have Both” and the menacing thud of the closer “A Knife for the Girls” completely nail the kind of brooding, nocturnal atmosphere they seem to be shooting for a lot of the time. So, then. What we have in Someone to Drive You Home is basically a half-decent album by a good band — what more could you ask for?

—Fergal O’Reilly

THE LONG BLONDES | Someone to Drive You Home | Rough Trade (U.K.)


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