The Long Blondes

Someone To Drive Your Home

(Rough Trade/Beggars Banquet; 2006/2007)

By Alan Baban | 13 January 2008

The Long Blondes hail from Sheffield, a place that, up until five minutes ago, I knew little about, except that it was somewhere up North.

As is its wont, Wikipedia fixed everything; but, besides a quick palliative fix to my thoughtful anoxia, the gleaned information bears little relevance, really, to what I want to say about Someone to Drive You Home. And I doubt the knowledge that the city "has over 170 woodlands (covering 28.27 km² / 10.9 mi²), 78 public parks (covering 18.30 km² / 7.1 mi²) and 10 public gardens" is really going to affect my assessment of, and the way you listen to, this record.

The only veritable way to lend Sheffield an apropos namedrop, I guess, is to say something like this: Pulp hearkened from Sheffield. The Long Blondes hearken from Sheffield. Which means, obviously, that if two totally different bands hearken from the same city, their mutual exclusivity is trumped by the unequivocal umbilicism between their respective bellybuttons. Said rule applies still if one band consists almost entirely of females, and the other almost entirely of males. No no, nevermind such frivolities as gender divisions, class wars, mythopoeitic inconsistencies and whatnot -- Sheffield. They come from Sheffield. End of.

But, no -- fuck the Fuhrer -- I can't hear it. If the relation exists at all, it can be entirely attributed to the serpentine, almost coy guitarwork that flits in a velveteen cabaret between theatrical bumnotes and amp-chewing trainwrecks. But, even then, most of, if not all, the time, the Blondes are taking no aural prisoners, fireblazing a simmering trail through buzzsaw bass and oh-so-arbitrary attitude till the record's amphetaminic rush exhausts itself.

Memorable hooks, then, are in welcome surplus, the leapfrogging thrust of the rhythm section endowing terse, shouted choruses of "Edie Sedgewick!" and "You're only 19!" with the glow of burning manuscripts. The key, most easily heard on "Only Lovers Left Alive", is how the music manages to sound both vivacious and claustrophobic, most of the credit coming down to Kate Jackson, whose voice is presented at the fore of the mix, not so much subdueing the riotous anarchy of the muscular glam punk racket as throttling it into submission. It works because she's such an expressive singer, sarcastic and shrill when the need presents itself (as on the incendiary "Separated by Motorways"), but also revealing a wealth of nuanced feeling by the time "A Knife for the Girls"'s slow build-up resolves into blue tones of embitterment.

The album's success stems not so much from the quality of the material, which is mixed, but from how, in a stifled, spooning civilisation of cretinous indie muttons and art rockers, the Long Blondes have eeked out their own personal existence, sure to save them from extinction for a couple more years, at the least. The songs, sometimes overtly formalist and stylistically unadventurous, are invigorated by the enthusiasm and character of their delivery. When this identity coalesces with interesting songcraft, the band are dynamite -- take, for example, "You Can Have Both," which seems to do the rodeo on a buckling Les Savy Fav monster of melodic dissonance, before a dramatic "Stop!" flares up to leave the Jackson and bassist Reenie Hollis in the dying embers of echoed hollers and defibrillating bass. What follows is a one-two elucidation of outsider art that adequately sums up the ethos of the sound: "I've only got a job so I don't disappoint my mother / It's like I've painted myself into a social corner / Well, that's what happens when you listen / To St. Scott Walker."

Which is doubly cool, because Scott Walker does not come from Sheffield.