Album Review: Singles – The Long Blondes
By Guy Sangster Adams
Take a seat on this whirling waltzer, and hold on tight for an exhilarating, break neck swoosh through songs of passionate invitation and lustful longing, that urge for a bait to be bitten, to songs of dark seduction and insouciant dismissal, the sullen warnings of the hard bitten.
This chronological compilation brings cohesion to vinyl disparateness, by pulling together all the tracks from the five 7 inch singles The Long Blondes released on four, small independent labels, between forming in 2004 and signing to Rough Trade in April 2006. Whilst equally charting their nascency and highlighting their already latent talent to subsume, collage, and allude to, a wonderfully eclectic and extensive range of music, literary, film and art references. Their influences do not denude the immediacy or freshness of their songs, but act as a perfect accessory setting off the exquisite cut and style of the ensemble.
An echo of The Shangri-Las runs throughout, from the opening drum beats of the anthemic statement of intent, New Idols, to Kate Jackson’s Betty Weiss filtered through Deborah Harry vocals of the first three singles, and the infectious, cheer leader hysteria of Reenie Hollis and Emma Chaplin’s call and response backing vocals. Most to the fore in Polly, which, although unstated, serves as a wonderful homage to Blondie’s In The Flesh. The video for which, as an aside for beret chic completeists, featured Harry’s own espousal of Bonnie Parker style.
The melody of early 1960s pop is cleverly fused with the wonderful swirling, zing and full peal ring of Dorian Cox and Emma Chaplin’s guitars, evoking Poison Ivy and the Psychobilly of The Cramps, particularly in the rhythmic fuzz and feedback of New Idols, Long Blonde, and Autonomy Boy, and the jangly Rockabilly leanings of Johnny Marr amidst Rusholme Ruffians-era The Smiths, on the previously unreleased, demo version of Separated By Motorways, Big Infatuation, and new track Peterborough. All three jive-propelled by Hollis and Screech Louder’s dynamically tight rhythm section.
All the songs are shot through with a wry observation and a literary erudition, from the funny, flash fiction moon stomp Darts, to the glorious lyrical epics, akin to the opulence of Hunky Dory period Bowie, Giddy Stratospheres and Appropriation (By Any Other Means). An homage to Hitchcock’s Vertigo, Appropriation showcases Jackson’s engaging ability to change vocal style to portray the shifting narrative perspective of each single, and in turn the breadth of her vocal range. With this track and the equally noir-ish My Heart Is Out Of Bounds, her blue-black bruised voice, with shades of Nico, emotes a tantalising/spine tingling, sexy/scary femme fatale.
By its nature, Singles is retrospective, but do not think that this was tomorrow, this is tomorrow. “We could be idols”; could be, would be, should be.
After I had written this review, Dorian Cox posted the following message on The Long Blondes’ website on 19th October 2008:
We have decided to call it a day.
The main reason for this is that I suffered from a stroke in June and unfortunately I do not know when / if I will be well enough to play guitar again.
On behalf of the band I’d like to say a big thank you to anyone who ever came to one of our shows, bought one of our records or danced to one of our songs in a club. Thank you, if it wasn’t for you the whole thing would have been pointless.
Finally on a personal note, thanks for all your well wishing messages.
So very sadly it seems it ‘was tomorrow’ after all; but in that, Singles provides a wonderful and very fitting tribute to The Long Blondes.