In the months running up to the release of their eagerly awaited second studio album ‘“Couples”’, The Long Blondes covertly aired new material under the pseudonym of The Dead Eyed Bitches at a select number of gigs around the country; word spread of a sound that was more emancipated from their colour by numbers glam-pop debut of ‘Someone To Drive You Home’ in favour for a more disco-driven renascence, lacking the life and lustre that had been acquainted with the band and endeared towards by many a fan.
Subsequently, their return to their adopted hometown of Sheffield is met accordingly: fans appear stagnant and mute with apprehension as they gather before a stage adorned with disco balls and prurient lighting; however, as the lustful illuminations flicker and fade, the crowd become enraptured with promise, hope and adoration.
“It’s so good to be back!” announces Kate Jackson, lead singer and modern day bellwether for the female indie faithful. As she approaches centre stage she is greeted by a sea of worshipping arms, each pouring their passion and glee into the receptacle that is the band’s imperturbable poise and kitsch charm: as a result, set opener ‘Once And Never Again’ cascades effortlessly from the speakers with sharp angular guitar hooks and stuttering drum beats, injecting life and convulsive call-response replies from the crowd upon the chorus.
In the past, The Long Blondes have been criticised for their rudimentary sound and style over content theatrics, however, tonight appears to be a retort to such denouncements. The pop giddiness and frivolities of the first album still shine through with a radiance that warms with a well worn expression of youthful zeal; but it’s the new tracks on aural display that takes them above and beyond what we have grown to expect.
The Long Blondes have moved away from the pop simplicity of their first album in favour of a more sultry sound and a sense of maturation. With Erol Alkan producing the new material for “Couples”, the album is set to different pace: the songs are less spontaneous, harder to judge in direction, and layered with celestial arrangements for a more inventive Eighties sense of pop sophistication. If anything, The Long Blondes appear at ease and centred even if the crowd appear mystified to their new vision, gazing dazedly with purblind eyes and secretly languishing for the old pop flippancy.
What the band must receive kudos for is their ability to replicate said album sound on a live scale. They appear unafraid to pick up new instruments and experiment for a more accomplished sound, adding dexterity to what was originally a rather myopic view of musical production. ‘Century’ may appear to be a cut and paste version of Blondie’s ‘Rapture’ but does take a life on of its own; ‘I’m Going To Hell’ rises and falls beautifully to the tune of Elton John driven piano histrionics; whereas ‘Round The Hairpin’ provides a more industrial, experimental sound akin to The Kills lamenting over affairs of the heart.
The associations with Blondie that have bequeathed The Long Blondes since they first stepped onto the scene are rational, even if a little tiring: their “new” Eighties-inspired sound almost appears ironic in orchestration and direction, along with Kate Jackson’s femme fatale demure and breathy falsetto that are parallel to that of Deborah Harry; but it is Jackson’s faultless inflections and performance, and the band’s willingness to augment – albeit facilitated – something unexpected and alluring that is quite admirable.