It’s apparent that something is different from note one on “Couples,” the second album by Sheffield’s Long Blondes. First single “Century” opens the album in a similar fashion to Someone To Drive You Home‘s “Lust in the Movies,” only where that song begins with a squeal of feedback before the beats kick in, “Century” begins with eight seconds of buzzing synthesizer. More synth permeates the atmosphere with its ethereal tendrils, Kate Jackson sings the song’s title in the most gorgeous breathy tone she’s ever sung, and before you know it, The Long Blondes are playing disco. Yep, something’s different alright.
Dance music, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily a great departure for The Long Blondes, but how they approach it this time is a significant departure from their sound on “Giddy Stratospheres” or “You Could Have Both.” Still sexy and sophisticated, the UK outfit shifts their focus from spunky, high-energy punk pop to dark, moody and lush disco, with synthesizers now taking on a much more prominent role than before. From the sound of the ten amazing tracks on “Couples,” their metamorphosis is one that flatters them.
“Century,” though a single and somewhat catchy in its own right, is subtler in tone than anything on the group’s previous effort, and there’s very little in the way of that album’s wiry, hyperactive pogo anthems. Instead, “Couples” works best as a whole, with a strong continuous flow, and a sequence that builds more slowly toward a climax. It’s still fun, of course, but in an entirely different way.
Second track “Guilt” has all the makings of a disco smash in its first few seconds—epic synthesizers blaring, Jackson doing her best Donna Summer—though it subdues the over-the-top diva tendencies in favor of a jangly dancepunk swagger. This is Some Girls meets The Rapture, with one of the best female voices at the front of it all. When she sings “guilt has nothing to do with it” she sounds amazing, but still as dangerous as she ever has. On the title track, Jackson declares “falling in love is sometimes hard/ writing a love song is even harder,” and that ever-pervading theme of love gone sour is pushed to the forefront, just to remind you that some things haven’t changed all that much (though this track is one that sounds most like the band’s prior album). Yet while Someone was more like a cathartic release after a breakup, “Couples” is the lingering sadness that follows you to the club, hideously bludgeoning you with every beat of the DJ’s booming bass.
There are a few shorter `rock’ songs on “Couples,” like the brief “I Like the Boys” and the new wave-ish “The Serious Bit,” which break up the moodier songs with an injection of raw power, though they’re just an appetizer for the jaw-dropping “Round the Hairpin.” A throbbing synth bass pulsates throughout the truly eerie song, interjected with shards of guitar reminiscent of Wire’s “Practice Makes Perfect.” I would have never guessed they could pull out an abstract post-punk gem this bizarre and this amazing, but I’m glad to be wrong. Of course, I could probably say the same thing about the slinky revenge-sex jam “Too Clever By Half,” a minimalist, empowering `fuck you’ that’s bound to replace “I Will Survive” for those with hip tastes.
“Erin O’Connor” brings back an urgent, rocking pace, though synths still dominate. In an amazing and highly infectious chorus, Jackson, with no illusions about her distracted lover, sings “close your eyes and think of Erin O’Connor/ I’ll pretend I’m Lily Cole/ and imagine that you’re someone else as well.” The drum machine and piano driven “Nostalgia” is simple but lovely, soothing the listener before the explosive “I’m Going To Hell.” When Jackson coos “I may as well make it worth my while,” it’s clear she’d rather laugh with the sinners than cry with the saints, and suitably, the music is a gigantic celebration, one that I’ll bet makes a great set closer.
The Long Blondes may have undergone quite an evolution with “Couples,” toning down their punk leanings for more than a touch of ethereal disco treatment, yet their reinvention of sorts has revealed an even more impressive side of the band. In love and in art, sometimes you need to take risks, and in doing so, The Long Blondes have come out triumphant.
Glass Candy – B/E/A/T/B/O/X
Siouxsie and the Banshees – Kaleidoscope
Cut Copy – In Ghost Colors
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.