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The Long Blondes - Couples

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Artist: The Long Blondes

Album: Couples

Label: Rough Trade

Review date: May. 6, 2008

It's not like there's a shortage of bitter personalities in the indie world, but the Long Blondes have developed into artists that are about as caustic as you can get while remaining committed to songcraft. What separates them from the usual pack of glum is a lack of pity, self-directed or otherwise. Couples is an album of narratives, all in first person, each one speaking out to a lover, without either side earning any sympathy.

One pair speeds around in a rental car, to a bass throb that implies certain death. The tempo, and by extension their heartbeats, remain too slow to suggest any excitement. Another character insists her partner go ahead and imagine her as model Erin O'Connor, "and I'll pretend you're some one else as well." Putting a twist on the phrase "close your eyes and think of England" suggests no amount of sex play is going to make their contempt go away. There's enough difference in the details to these stories to see that singer Kate Jackson is inhabiting different personas, but she ends up painting a self-portrait, too. It's easy to imagine her as a slightly bossy friend on a lunch date, offering misanthropy couched as relationship advice, tearing apart her own experiences in hopes of finding hope.

The guitar clamor that dressed their earliest work, and any residual cheer it brought, has pretty much evaporated on Couples. When it does peek in, the hooks ("Here comes the serious bit!", and "I'm going to hell / so I may as well / make it worth my while") do their best to undermine the sunshine. Which isn't to say that this is a dreary or humorless record. It's more cohesive than their debut, and just as catchy. Their sound now centers on spaghetti strap disco grooves. Of all the guitar bands that have chosen this beaten path of late, their evolution comes closest to Glass Candy. Jackson shares a tattered sense of glamor with of Ida No, and both sing with a suggestiveness that doesn't suggest sexiness as much as understimulation. Glass Candy is cozy with camp, whereas the Blondes see disco as the start of discourse. But both bands come from the provinces, and carry a chip on their shoulders, a sense that it's too late to ever be the cool kids. They make music that's only danceable from a distance – get close and the Studio 54 borrowings start to suggest depleted soul.

By Ben Donnelly

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