By Tom Lynch
Glamour is what you make of it.
Not only did they offer a refreshing debut record that amped up the fun in danceable Brit pop, five-piece Sheffield group The Long Blondes looked really good doing it. Whatever you call it—“glam punk,” I guess—frontwoman Kate Jackson was plucked by NME in 2006 for the mag’s “cool list,” ranked as high as seventh. “Someone to Drive You Home,” the band’s first album, was a highly anticipated affair, as various singles were released preceding its unveiling and good old-fashioned hype did the rest. By the time the record hit shelves, the band was relatively well-known. The mixing of punk sensibility with influence from Blondie, Pulp and even Pet Shop Boys, The Long Blondes’ sound, energetic and aggressively sunlit, was the work of a band that never felt sorry for itself.
“Couples,” The Long Blondes sophomore record on Rough Trade, released at the start of this month, plays a bit different. Darker in nature, if even larger in scope, Jackson and crew—which includes principle songwriter Dorian Cox and a drummer tagged Screech—dig a little deeper into the group’s collective consciousness and emerge from the hole a little dirty. There’s grime and rubble and grit all over those beautiful, beautiful clothes. Like with most records that feature an accelerated amount of introspection, break-up/relationship unpleasantness dominates, but at no point do the Blondes grow dire or morose. The material’s presented much like you would expect from a band that seems determined to update New Order, as well as from a record produced by Erol Alkan, who’s worked with Klaxons, Justice and Hot Chip.
“I think we felt less pressure,” drummer Screech Louder says of the writing process of “Couples” compared to the first record. “With the first [album], there was a lot of, I don’t like to use the term ‘hype,’ but I can’t think of a better one. [That] came before the first album, and once it came out, [that pressure] was gone really. Before the first record we had [released] stuff in the UK, we were called the ‘Best Unsigned Band in the Country,’ and there was a pressure to follow that up with a record that merited it. Now we’ve taken the pressure off ourselves, so it wasn’t such a big problem.”
“Someone to Drive You Home” was released in the States just last summer, making “Couples” a quick follow-up, less than a year, for American ears. “We kind of came off the tour after the summer,” Louder says, “had a couple weeks off, and we got back together to write. We booked studio time…we [just wanted] to see what came out, we were not resting on our laurels. If it wasn’t the record we wanted…it wasn’t really our intention that we wanted our [next] album now. But with the way writing works, and the industry, it just all came out really well, and we just decided to release it. We weren’t under any pressure to follow-up quickly.”
Louder says that the band’s increasing confidence—with each other, and with their individual musicianship—has not only improved the quality of the songs but made the band more capable of achieving its musical goals. “I think from my point of view, when we started the band, I had never played drums before,” he says, “and now with this record, and it’s the same with everyone, we’re just more confident as players, and at getting our ideas across. From that point of view, it’s a much more collaborative effort.”
And the darker, more “serious” material is a direct reflection of that? “Definitely,” he says. “It wasn’t our intention to make a dark record. We maybe got a little bit annoyed with the press from the first album, who compared us to the Fifties and Sixties girl groups, [talked about] the fashion…we wanted to get away from that, be recognized for musical achievement rather than the fact that some of us like to dress up pretty.”
He says that streamlining influences has become easier as well. “That’s how the songs came out,” he says. “I think we sort of listened to weird, darker music, and before we didn’t have the ability to translate that into the music we were making. There were limitations—we couldn’t do anything but write three-minute songs. Now we have the ability to do things that are a bit more complex.”
The Long Blondes play May 24 at the Logan Square Auditorium, 2539 North Kedzie, (773)252-6179, at 8:30pm. $12-$14.