"You might be a band genuinely enthralled with rock’s glorious and shamanic past, you might be able to re-create 1982 musically and you might release the sort of quality non-crowd pleasing single that hasn’t been seen since Freur’s Doot Doot, but will the kids care?
The Long Blondes – Couples
Well, what to make of this? If ever an LP showed a cussed streak, it’s this one. On first listen I thought that it was a deliberate two fingers at the music bizz world, for they’re a high-minded lot them Blondes, I can tell thee. My hasty assumption would do Couples a massive disservice, however. It’s a beautifully paced album, full of class, determination and verve; and of course boasting those trademark storming pop songs in Guilt and Here Comes the Serious Bit. Oh, and while we’re about it, someone’s been listening to the Associates, or Garlands-era Cocteau Twins. Or mid-seventies era Eno. Or Donna Summer for that matter.
Still, despite Couples being a massive leap forward in terms of the band’s development as a creative force, God only knows what people are going to think of it. This is a work that demands the two things that seem to be in short supply nowadays; patience and a sense of adventure. You might be a band genuinely enthralled with rock’s glorious and shamanic past, you might be able to re-create 1982 musically and you might release the sort of quality non-crowd pleasing single that hasn’t been seen since Freur’s Doot Doot, but will the kids care?
Anyway enough gossipy hubble-bubble, what of the music?
Well, it’s certainly no Someone to Drive You Home. Listening back, the first LP sometimes sounded a bit one-paced; like a well-loved car that needed to rev up every time it stopped at the lights. Couples replaces the sometimes glutinous riffery and tom-tom led chants with a sleekness and an almost muscular simplicity that really seems to mean business. And unlike its predecessor, Couples doesn’t seem interested in appealing to any kind of common sentiment. It’s hard, cynical in places and interested in flexing its emotional muscles. There is also a noticeable concentration on space and changes of pace and mood, as seen in Round the Hairpin and the brilliant Too Clever by Half. And the rabble-rousing Kate Jackson we heard on Someone… has decided to show a dreamier, more abstract side to her nature in Nostalgia and The Couples. It’s challenging stuff.
All this concentration on sonic issues shouldn’t overlook the aforementioned fact that the Blondes remain a band who can write a classic pop song, seemingly at will. The brilliant I’m Going to Hell should be a single for sure, as should Here Comes the Serious Bit. I’m just hoping, for all our sakes; that this record gets the plaudits it deserves. Still it could get slagged off, like Fried, or Porcupine. But I hope that won’t bother pop guardians like the Blondes.
Onwards and Upwards!
Words: Richard Foster