So, you’ve spun ‘Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not…’ until your iPod’s reached meltdown and you’ve come to one conclusion: life up north is pretty grim. If you’re not slipping on a pile of kebab vomit or getting glassed at the Ritzy disco, then you’re watching your childhood sweetheart get groped by the guy who just glassed you and puked their kebab up on your shoes. Great.
But where to escape to? After all, life down south is pretty grim, too. As is life in the Midlands. In fact, life can be pretty rubbish full stop, what with nuclear war, civil rights infringements and a Captain UK tour all on the horizon. No wonder, then, that Sheffield’s other finest band, The Long Blondes, are offering an escape from it all. Alex Turner might have had the poetic flair to document the Steel City’s streets with a sparkling wit, but we don’t always want to be reminded about the time we lost a tooth in the taxi queue. And this debut album will take you far away, into a world of faded ’50s icons, faux-glamour and bedsit romance.
It’s about bloody time, too. When NME first got excited about The Long Blondes, William, Duke Of Normandy was still putting the finishing touches to his invasion plans. NME albums editors have spawned great grandchildren in the time it’s taken for them to quit their jobs as librarians, sign a record deal and release ‘Someone To Drive You Home’. Thankfully, it’s been worth the wait.
What’s so often the case with records that have been festering for so long in the pipeline is that the band fail to capture the energy and excitement of their early demos. Thrillingly, that’s just not the case here. Opening pair ‘Lust In The Movies’ and ‘Once And Never Again’ (both souped-up versions) rocket from the speakers in a haze of squalling guitar feedback and heart-palpitation drums. These might be classy, literate indie-pop songs but The Long Blondes have sharpened their fangs. Best of all is the new version of ‘Separated By Motorways’, in which Kate Jackon’s opening wail has developed into a feral shriek so piercing it’s only audible to Border Collies.
Other oldies have been left off – and you’ll no doubt hear the arguments (“What, no ‘Autonomy Boy’?”) raging for months. But caught between pleasing the ‘I saw ’em first’ purists and the people who’ve not heard The Long Blondes yet, the band couldn’t really win. So let’s sidestep what could have been on the record and concentrate on the 11 tracks here.
Firstly, and unlike the Monkeys’ debut, this is music made for the outsider – designed as much for dreamers as it is for the dancefloor. Like their heroes Pulp (well-worn copies of ‘His ’N’ Hers’ drew most of the band to the Steel City), these are songs for the misfits, the bedroom intellects who always wondered why their peers preferred bingeing on WKD to discussing the merits of Nuts In May. Also like Pulp, they’re not afraid to use smart lyrics as weapons. Many of the words were penned by guitarist Dorian, and may have ended up sounding a bit weedy from a male perspective. But handed over to Kate’s knee-quivering vocals, it’s anything but twee. Instead she’s telling – nay, ordering – teenage girls to ditch their boyfriends (‘Once And Never Again’), warning them away from crap lovers (‘Heaven Help The New Girl’) and teasing boys about their lacklustre relationships (‘Giddy Stratospheres’). Only a fool would argue that Jackson – smart, sexy and chic – isn’t the coolest pop star around right now. And if they did, she’d eat them for breakfast.
It’s not just the assured sense of grrrl power that ensures this album sounds quite unlike anything else around. Sure, it has the requisite disco beats, spiked guitar lines and shouty vocals that enable it to take the decks of your local indie disco hostage – but there’s a tightrope being trodden here, skilfully balancing obscure indie nerdiness and killer pop choruses. Check ‘You Could Have Both’, which sounds like Blondie and Comet Gain. And yes, this album is just as smart as they think it is. There are avenues of cultural references to explore, from ’50s films (From Here To Eternity on ‘Only Lovers Left Alive’) to ’60s art-stars (Edie Sedgwick on ‘Lust In The Movies’) to cult ’70s electro bands (Cabaret Voltaire on ‘Giddy Stratospheres’). Elsewhere, the song ‘Madame Ray’ is inspired by Lee Miller, the photographer and muse of avant-garde artist Man Ray. You certainly don’t get that with The Kooks.
Put simply, this is fantasy pop, performed to perfection. And with a music scene awash with Monkeys copyists, such gritty realism is a welcome relief. The Long Blondes have had enough of life-kicking around takeaway trays on the streets of Planet Earth. Instead, they’ve made a record that’s in a world of its own.