It’s been said that great art comes from pain. Though there’s ample evidence to support this claim (i.e. Elliott Smith, Cursive, country music), woe-is-me type lyrical anguish can go horribly, horribly wrong, resulting in such audible tripe as Staind and Everclear. But it is a special band like Blonde Redhead that can compress their personal agony into musical gems like Misery is a Butterfly.
For those of you that haven’t heard the story, singer Kazu Makino had her face trampled by a horse in 2002, causing her to have reconstructive surgery and take months of physical therapy to be able to sing again. Though no one in the band has definitely confirmed it, it is apparent that much of the material on Misery is directly influenced by her accident.
On the lush, string-laden opener “Elephant Woman,” Kazu sings, “Elephant girl, it was an accident/unfortunate“and “lay me down on the ground/softly, softly.” Though the content of the song reveals a new aspect of the band, it is Blonde Redhead’s sound that has undergone a drastic change. It comes as a shock to hear a band who was previously so dissonant transform into a more graceful, melancholy outfit. The album closer, “Equus,”also hints at Makino’s trauma, as she sings “sometimes I just want you to be a horse” over an uncharacteristically funky melody. The subject matter does shift away from the equine, however, like the trip-hoppy “Melody,” in which Kazu sings of a girl who confesses to a murder. It’s one of the best tracks on the album, drenched in dark atmosphere and mysterious undertones.
Guitarist Amedeo Pace takes on half of the vocal duties on the album, providing a slightly more raw element, more akin to that of Blonde Redhead’s previous albums. Though “Messenger”blends in well alongside Kazu’s songs, “Maddening Cloud”and “Falling Man”are more angular, manic songs that are built on simple, angular arrangements, unlike many of the album’s more lavish moments.
Blonde Redhead’s transition from Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons to Misery is similar to that Unwound made in 2001, when they followed up the dissonant Challenge For a Civilized Society with Leaves Turn Inside You. They’ve taken a sound that they’ve developed over nearly ten years and decided to create something different altogether.
Blonde Redhead is living proof that personal tragedy can be catalyzed into something beautiful, something graceful, something magical.
Unwound – Leaves Turn Inside You
The Cure – Disintegration
Portishead – Dummy
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.