Blossoms – ‘Ribbon Around The Bomb’ review: Stockport heroes come of age

Album four sees the gang level up with some of their most candid songwriting to date, but their hallmark sense of fun is never far from sight 

There’s been an unshakable playfulness behind Blossoms since they broke through as indie upstarts six years ago. Across three albums, the Stockport heroes have grown into heavyweights of the game, summoning flare smoke and bouncing masses with one flashy synth line or bass groove. Vitally, the band haven’t lost sight of who they are along the way, remaining the same fun-loving group of pals you’d gladly call your own mates.

That enduring sense of warmth has prevailed in the music as well. 2016’s self-titled debut went straight to Number One with glimmering and glossy anthems that launched them onto main stages across the globe. They doubled down on that synth-led formula with 2018’s hit-packed follow-up ‘Cool Like You’, before 2020’s Talking Heads-indebted ‘Foolish Loving Spaces’ saw the gang refine the sound into their most adventurous work yet.

You needn’t look further than the artwork for the band’s fourth album, ‘Ribbon Around The Bomb’, to see there’s an element of growing up at play this time around. They aren’t striking moody poses under moody neon lighting any more, instead opting for a timeless monochrome depiction of the album title. The phrase itself came from a description of a Frida Kahlo painting that frontman Tom Ogden was struck by on a visit to the artist’s house in Mexico.

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With a serene, sweeping string section of opener ‘The Writers Theme’, it doesn’t take long for the listener to confirm that the record is going to come as another thrilling shift in the Blossoms narrative. Speaking for to NME for their cover story earlier this month, Ogden indicated this is the most mature version of the band to date: “Your life changes a lot – especially in these last few years. The lockdown gave me a chance to think about who I am and how I got here.”

It’s a sentiment that flows through this introspective record. A defining line comes on the seven-minute soul-stirring anthem ‘Visions’, which airs some of Ogden’s most candid and poetic lyricism to date as he longingly questions: “Was I complete at 23?”. Replete with swirling violin refrains and wistful acoustic strums, it show a vulnerable and reflective side we haven’t seen before, almost rewarding the listeners that have grown and matured with them.

Ogden broaches similar matters in the record’s more uplifting moments as well. Take the shuffling and spritely Paul Simon jangle of ‘The Sulking Poet’, a track with deliberately throwaway vocal melodies: “Ooh la la / Ooh la la / Julliette”. It’s also a nod to his younger, more naive self as he beams warmly: “Thinking back to when I was a child / I was trying to become someone / I can still remember road signs / Let’s have a toast to the sulking boy.”

The record is also packed with the dizzying heart-on-sleeve songwriting the band have mastered over the years. We’re thrown headfirst into a cinematic love story with ‘Ode To NYC’, as Ogden reels off Big Apple destinations as if scribbling a postcard to a loved one back home: “I’m wide awake, Empire State of shock through my body / You can stay on Bleecker Street, Midtown and on Broadway.” The whirlwind of starry-eyed lines brings to mind the montage-like quality of Harry Nilsson, bursting with kaleidoscopic romance.

As well as taking influence from the great American songwriters, the band also look closer to their Greater Manchester home: the swagger of ‘Strangeways, Here We Come’-era The Smiths runs throughout. ‘Edith Machinist’ is perhaps the best example of this, shimmering with Johnny Marr guitar lines and haunting vocal melodies before breaking out into a Simon & Garfunkel singalong of “I’ll deny the light / Deny the light!” Standout ‘Born Wild’ also captures that sense of jubilant melancholy, replacing the band’s sparkling festival-ready synths with emotive guitars and profound lyricism that feels more like open-road Americana.

Though the band are clearly stepping things up sonically and spiritually, ‘Ribbon Around The Bomb’ never loses their unique magnetism. ‘The Writer’ comes as another introspective moment of songwriting as Ogden takes the spotlight for the intimate acoustic ballad: “Oh to be alone / Roving like a vagabond I feel so tired / But I’m the writer.” It’s a sign the band will never dial down on the lovelorn sentiments, something that has always kept Blossoms on a different and more direct and innocent path than their contemporaries on the indie scene.

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It’s a coming-of-age moment for the band, and there’s no question Blossoms have levelled up with this release, sealing their status as giants of the game with more earnest and open songwriting. While anthem-packed past records have catapulted them into the mainstream with the likes of ‘Charlemagne’ and ‘Your Girlfriend’, ‘Ribbon Around The Bomb’ is a record that ensures they’ll stay there for years to come. Whatever this Stockport gang do next, they won’t falter as long as they do it in their own indelible and charming way.

Details

Release date: April 29nd

Record label: Virgin EMI

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