"Singer Kate Jackson belts out this the lines “Nineteen, you're only nineteen for godssake” as if she was lecturing a class of freshers during their first term. "
The Long Blondes – Someone to Drive You Home
Well, as pure, unadulterated teenage pop records go, you'll be hard pressed to beat this LP. Yes there are mistakes a-plenty in it, there are moments that are in turns rash, snotty and just pain daft, but what it lacks in some quarters it gives tenfold in others.
Lust in the Movies is possibly the best opener on a record this year. A tremendous rolling anthem and stained with the tears of self pitying youth, the song allows precocious aspirants to love and fame to belt out the fabulous holler "I just want to be a sweetheart"... not a million miles away in sentiment from "I wanna be adored", n'est-ce pas?
Once and Never Again is another jaunty, cocksure anthem but this time the solutions to problems aired in the song are to be found in empathy, not determined ambition. Singer Kate Jackson belts out this the lines "Nineteen, you're only nineteen for godssake" as if she was lecturing a class of freshers during their first term. It is fabulous, heart-warming stuff, the message given extra emphasis by the breezy thump of the drums and the Simply Thrilled Honey guitar flourishes. Following that, Only Lovers Left Alive is a tale of rampant girly ambition, containing the brilliantly catty line, "See the way she covers her chest up as if it's a National Treasure". Do girls think like this? What is apparent with these three tracks is the considerable amount of dreamy, empathic fantasising that the Long Blondes have unlocked in their music, a fantasising that is bound to be reciprocated by their listeners. This is classic everyday sing-along pop, in the mould of Beach Boys or the Human League. And very rare in these controlled, anodyne times.
Giddy Stratospheres is a glazed disco stomp that falls short of the song that it could be (if only Nile Rogers was about) but still, the basic song possesses enough charm to win through eventually. I also have to say that the vocals could be much more passionate. In the Company of Women is another track that suffers sonically as the mix seems to be too full and cluttered. More sense of space and a greater appreciation of tempo would have been welcome. As it is the (by now familiar) key change for the refrain is a bit forced and obvious. Blondes by Numbers, I'm afraid. This is especially galling when the following track, Heaven Help the New Girl is considered. Jackson's husky vocals are given proper space to emote here, as the tempo has dropped and instrumentation is sparser and thus possessing a more powerful kick, emotionally, when the song picks up midway through.
Separated by Motorways is great giddy pop, though I do hope the intoxicating potency of escaping along northern English motorways in vintage clothing doesn't lead to a copy cat spate of incidents involving teenage girls and (ultimately) leading to unfortunate accidents and death. We'll see. A marvellous Orange Juice-style guitar rattle introduces You Could Have Both, one of the Blonde's strongest songs on the LP. This is what the band does best; a menacing kitchen sink story is given a brief ray of emotional light only to plunge further depths of self doubt. It's classic pop and the chorus makes the heart skip a beat. Yet again, instruments and vocals are allowed to breathe. Swallow Tattoo is another great track, snappy, brittle and full of clever 60s references, gin, film noir and... do I hear a Peter Cook/Drimble Weed and the Vegetation reference here? I do... Good stuff. The single Weekend Without Makeup is a great track just for the chorus, which is a classic counterpoint to the rather mundane verse. Yet again, sheer charm and guts pulls this band through.
The last two tracks are harder edged than what has gone before; Madame Ray is a tale of disorientation and sounds like an attack on louche living (though of course I'm not sure. The deliberately discordant stomp morphs into a splendid guitar driven plea, "I have always been reserved" A Knife for the Girls is a suitable droney finale, clocking in at five minutes, and the darkest song in the collection. It is very arts-chool in execution and Miss Jackson's threatening vocal delivery leans towards Siouxie Sioux's at moments. Northern separatist will also be thrilled by the ending refrain, "don't go to London..." Indeed.
Punchy, involved, endearingly haphazard, the Long Blondes have thrown their 1940s beret in the pop ring with abandon. Good for them. A very, very promising debut indeed.
Words: Richard Foster.