Anyway, back to the task in hand. I'm listening to an album that I've held in high regard for a long time. Hell, I had tickets for The Blondes' March gig at Fibbers back in mid-December. I nearly, nearly gave them up (long story, a lot of emotional upset), but the pull of witnessing Dorian Cox's ventriloquism act proved too great in the end. What, of course, colours the mix is the fact that Couples has been part of my playlist for the last two weeks or so.
So what do I think? Suddenly, it's underwhelming. Odd that: two weeks of the new album has rendered Someone... one-dimensional and shown it up as the relatively minor work it is compared with Couples. Of course, the second album has many of the tics that plague not just The Long Blondes' music, but British indie music in general (guitar hooks in unison with vocals, melodic lines overly wedded to the root of the power chord like sub-Buzzcocks thrash, etc), but whereas the new album has some interesting breaks with style, Someone... now has all the feel of Elvis Costello's production job for The Specials' eponymous first album: charming, but simplistic and underdone, whilst still managing to be ground-breaking at the time.
What's changed? What's going on? Well, I suppose the change of producer helps. The hiring of Steve Mackey, the former bassist in Pulp, shaped the sound more than many people gave credit: listen to Dorian Cox's backing vocals, and then argue that point with me.
Actually, don't. I'll just sit there with my arms folded looking smug, like I do. You know that look.
No: what The Blondes needed, desperately needed was something that would divest them of that "Sound of Swinging Sheffield" tag that subconsciously followed them around due to Mackey's competent-but-flawed production job. Something that would make Someone... feel like Please Please Me sounds once you listen to any other Beatles album.
Erol Alkan's yer man, people. Seriously in demand right now, having just produced Twenty One for erstwhile prog-rock fetishists Mystery Jets and, having invigorated their sound with fizzy, dirty 80's synths, he grabs The Long Blondes by the scruff of the neck and invigorates their sound with fizzy, dirty 80's synths.
You spotting a pattern here?
Here's the thing though: it works. Furthermore, it's not just the synths that belie a greater maturity. "Century", the opening track on both their recent live sets and the new album, has been garnering a lot of attention for its glassy 80's sound (shades of late Siouxsie and the Banshees and Propaganda for me), but it's the sinuous, snaky feel of the instrumentation, what the music is doing harmonically that is the key. It's a million miles away from those awful tics I mentioned up the page: melody plays with countermelody, angular arpeggiators break up the more melodically unified moments. And that's just the first track.
I'm not going to go through it track-by-track, blow-by-blow. If you didn't like "Century" (and I'm sure there are plenty that don't), the new album manages to draw on more familiar aural territory for The Blondes whilst developing both lyrically and musically. In particular, "The Couples" stands out as beautiful, bitter, heart-breaking, heart-broken pop at its very best. It spoke to me.
The short recommendation is: BUY IT. Available on iTunes today with bonus tracks, and available in the shops tomorrow. Come round to my place and give me a kicking should you feel let down.