The Long Blondes
Romantic strife is The Long Blondes' stock-in-trade, but Couples affords the topic an inflamed sense of urgency, writhing as if dunked in turpentine. Kate Jackson, the album's principal voice, bounds through tales of curdled love, yowling here, sashaying there, as the rest of the band shake the dust off new wave and disco, assimilating them into their tightly wound rock 'n' roll.
The lyrics, nearly all written by lead guitarist Dorian Cox, examine the intrigue inherent in affairs: the emotional twisting and turning that upends lives and turns people into marionettes.
"Too Clever by Half" swivels to an R&B rhythm and outlines a "Closer"-style web of betrayal: "You both planned to leave your lovers and run off with each other / and leave us to look like fools." Jackson delivers the lines seductively, her character's coquettishness meant to draw the cheater close. Clearly possessing the upper hand and knowing it, she savors the moment, her words exposing themselves as a taunt. Then she sticks the knife in: "When you and her were out, I would go 'round to his house / and I don't have to tell you what we did next."
The roles are somewhat reversed in "Round the Hairpin," which throws a rented car into the equation. He's at the wheel. She's at his mercy. A keyboard lurches and buoys, combining with drummer Screech Louder's snare taps to lock in the trajectory, weaving back and forth, back and forth. When the taps give way to crashes, it's the terror pounding in the passenger's head. "Don't let me die," she pleads (possibly a last-minute ad-lib by Jackson, since the phrase isn't listed in the liner notes for the song). The driver's response, spoken by Cox and barely audible over the now-screaming guitars, is a chilling ramble, complete with, "If I can't have you, I don't want nobody / If I can't have you, I don't want to live."
Similarly, the woman at the pub in "The Couples" feels that failed love has sucked the life out of her. Now jaded, she clings to her self-pity as she watches the guys and gals. "People have the nerve to tell me that they're lonely," she moans to herself, "You're not lonely --- I am, baby."
All of this is heavy stuff, but Couples is a hemorrhage you can dance to. The slinky bass line of "Too Clever by Half" invites you to strut, and "Guilt" demands more, its disco-indebted beat and humming keyboards poppy enough to be a floor-filler. When it comes to vocals, bassist Reenie Hollis and guitarist-keyboardist Emma Chaplin add to the variety, providing the shouted chorus on "Here Comes the Serious Bit" and backing vocals elsewhere.
The final track, "I'm Going to Hell," is a towering inferno of a rock song -- huge enough to be a Broadway production -- with piano pounding worthy of at least a few puffs of "Great Balls of Fire." "I don't watch soap operas," one of the cheaters confesses, "maybe I should / I need to know if being the bad guy's any good." Everything about the song goes for broke: musically, vocally, thematically. It goes for the throat and hits the heart instead.
Saturday, September 6, 2008
The Long Blondes