I don’t like to romanticize the past, and I don’t believe that one particular era of rock music is necessarily any better than another. But I think it has to be said that the Britpop of the post-millennial age has been lacking a certain charisma that was ever-present in the ’90s. The Arctic Monkeys, The Rakes and The Dirty Pretty Things, as nice as they are, don’t have the flamboyance and flair of Blur, Suede or Pulp. And as macho as the pissing matches between the brothers Gallagher, Damon Albarn and Brett Anderson were, there was a much more prominent showing from the UK’s ladies of that era, what with Elastica, Sleeper, Echobelly, Catatonia and Lush holding their own alongside the feuding lads. With Electrelane bordering on post-rock, The Noisettes a British version of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs and The Pipettes a ’60s style girl group, it seems that British guitar pop is in the hands of the blokes again. Thank goodness for The Long Blondes.
Sheffield’s Long Blondes aren’t merely the best female-fronted band in England at the moment, I might go so far as to say they’re the best band in the UK at the moment. I may or may not change my mind tomorrow, but they’re an impressive lot nonetheless. Dressed in neatly tailored dresses, trousers and scarves, and wielding Johnny Marr-inspired riffs with Buzzcocks energy, the group (three-fifths female) has the style, the chops, and the personality to compete with their gentleman peers.
Released in the UK just before the new year, Someone to Drive You Home is finally finding its way to North American shores, and not a moment too soon. Stacked with renewed, re-recorded and perfected versions of early singles like “Giddy Stratospheres,” “Separated by Motorways” and “Once and Never Again,” it’s an album that delivers on early promise and then surpasses it, making it quite clear that any NME driven hype is well-deserved.
Just as their name suggests images of golden age Hollywood starlets, The Long Blondes reveal an ongoing fixation with film throughout Someone, delivering lines like “I feel like C.C. Baxter in Wilder’s `Apartment’” in “You Could Have Both,” and “give me a good film noir and a bottle of gin” in “Swallow Tattoo.” No song better displays their silver screen obsession than “Lust in the Movies,” in which the group shouts in unison “Edie Sedgwick, Anna Karina, Arlene Dahl…I just want to be a sweetheart!” The song has a punk-ish Elastica-like sass to it as well, as Kate Jackson sings over jagged riffs, “a svelte young man, eighteen lovers to his name/ well, if the rumors are true then eighteen lovers came crawling back again.”
More catty lyricism abounds on standout “Only Lovers Left Alive,” Jackson sounding deliciously vindictive as she wryly coos “looks are the first weapon/ charm is the second/ I reckon that she doesn’t have much of either.” On “Giddy Stratospheres,” Jackson sounds equally blunt, questioning “why waste your time just sitting here listening to this dead-eye bitch?” In both cases, Jackson’s femme fatale narration is backed by sexily abrasive post-punk dance rhythms. The rare ballad arises in the somber “Heaven Help the New Girl,” which is immediately followed by the ecstatic “Separated by Motorways.” I have trouble deciding which track is my personal favorite, but I tend to stick with “You Could Have Both,” a moody and atmospheric post-punk epic, rocking in all the right parts, yet featuring a spoken word narration in the middle a la their local heroes, Pulp.
There are lots of parallels to be made with Pulp—Sheffield origins, a sophisticated danceability, cinematic themes—but they’ve all been covered elsewhere, quite adequately. The most important similarity between them is that they’re both the best in their respective classes. While Pulp endured for a few decades, however, The Long Blondes are still a bit green, but they’re off to an amazing start. Should they continue making records of this caliber, they’ll be legends in their own right.
Pulp – Different Class
Elastica – Elastica
Franz Ferdinand – Franz Ferdinand
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.