Blood Red Shoes are like the impossibly cool kid you spy on your first day of Freshers’ Week. The one who has a vinyl copy of the Repo Man soundtrack under one arm and a battered notebook scrawled with declarations of love for Sonic Youth under the other. Sure, you’re initially a tad suspicious – maybe even slightly intimidated – but you know at some point you’ll bond with them over a shared love of PJ Harvey. Then one day they disappear for a couple of years, returning six months before graduation with stories of family bereavements and alien abductions, by which time you’ve grown your hair, filed your footwear into points so sharp they could burst cricket balls, started listening to German house music and… well, forgotten all about them.
It’s close to three years since Steve Ansell and Laura-Mary Carter first appeared on our radar with their debut EP, ‘Victory For The Magpie’, and a lot’s happened since then. New rave has come and gone, Arctic Monkeys have become the biggest British band of their generation after two albums, and it’s no longer embarrassing to admit to liking Babyshambles. Record company wrangles have delayed this debut album for over a year but, seeing as the musical landscape has changed so much in the interim, you’d be forgiven for asking, “Blood Red Who?”Opener ‘Doesn’t Matter Much’ should refresh your memory. Sawn-off guitars and scattershot drums wrestle each other to the death in a pit of sweat and sawdust. It’s reminiscent of The White Stripes if they’d spent their youths rummaging in discount bins for old Fugazi records rather than buying up wax cylinders by people called things like Blind Willie Jefferson. It sizzles with sex and kinetic energy and serves as a timely reminder as to why we were so damn excited about them in the first place. In fact, you may or may not be surprised to hear that there’s much to love about ‘Box Of Secrets’, not least ‘You Bring Me Down’, on which Laura-Mary straddles the punk-funk divide like a lusty Karen O with a Brighton twang, declaring to a layabout lover that “I don’t know why/I can’t function/In this dead end/Impossible”. Then there’s current single ‘Say Something, Say Anything’, all serrated edges, jagged guitars and choruses so cacophonous you have to remind yourself they’re being sung by two fey south coasters and not five hardcore bastards in a Seattle basement.
Indeed, it’s the interplay between these two Brightonites that makes ‘Box Of Secrets’ such a delight in places; both are blessed with grizzled, bone-crunching voices shot through with jerky tics, sexual energy and red-raw frustration that’s put to use at every available opportunity. The small-town rage of ‘It’s Getting Boring By The Sea’ hurtles along like a renegade V2-rocket on an unstoppable arc that ends at Brighton Pier, while live staple ‘ADHD’ lives up to its name with a racket of riot grrrl yelping and lyrics seemingly punctuated exclusively by exclamation marks, ending on a frantic coda of “I! Can’t!Concentrate! On! Any! Thing! At! All!”
All of which is awesome, naturally. However, ‘Box Of Secrets’ suffers from occasional patches of tedium where the pair sound a little short on ideas and take unfortunate turns towards becoming an omnisexual Nine Black Alps. ‘Try Harder’ – a spittle-fuelled scenester tirade mocking those who are “Trying so hard to be listened to” – also sadly lives up to its name, sounding a tad by-numbers. The same applies to the uninspired ‘I Wish I Was Someone Better’, which sounds like the pair going hell-for-leather against each other to get to the end of the song so they can forget about it.
That said, it’s easy to forget – after so bloody long – that this is a debut album, and, all told, it’s really a rather good one. Curtain-closer ‘Hope You Are Holding Up’ points towards a grander, more expansive future sound and the whole thing is over so quickly and done with such ferocity that you’re unlikely to be quibbling about any infrequent duffers.
The real question remains, however: do you still care? On this evidence you should be more than willing to make the re-introductions.