For me, The Long Blondes are one of the more fascinating could-have-beens of the 2000s. Two full length albums, one selection of B-sides, countless NME covers and new cool thing British buzz. It translated to an album that sold something like 600 its first week in the states. Despite the endless amounts of style, the band just wasn’t able to break, and when guitarist and main songwriter Dorian had a stroke - in his late twenties/early thirties, gulp - the band ended up breaking up.
The Long Blondes are not a likable band. Sonically they’re fine; catchy guitar rips, many a four on the floor beat, sounding like all the great pop bands of the world. Where they get interesting is in the lyrics. Kate Jackson, the lead singer, plays a role on most of the songs - a femme fatale, bored and messing around in other people’s love lives, obsessed with her relevance and worth in a world that’s spinning past her. She’s snotty and cocky, competitive and insecure.
The songs sort of play out like requiems for a party girl.
Flip through an issue of Paper Magazine; find an it girl with a band with one song, an occasional modeling career, a life as a DJ or an artist on call or a muse. The songs on Someone to Take You Home and Couples both feel like they’re written form the point of view of one of these girls (ah - a good example: 20something Sofia Coppola before she made her films and established herself as an artist. Lissy Trulle. Sting’s daughter with that rad song with Robyn.) They go out. They are in the right parties. Nobody ever tells them there’s a list, sawhree! in a condescending tone.
They are it, they are the zeitgeist, they are the star of their own private movie. But they’re worried - fretting - and that’s where the Long Blondes come in.
Here’s the thing: instead of Kate Jackson writing the lyrics, the lyrics were mostly written by Dorian the guitarist, which had the effect of giving the girl singer a particular role. “Once and Never Again” is a song aimed at a hey nineteen of a certain age, likely coltish and new to the scene, and Jackson’s sympathetic - I know how it feels to be your age/oh how I’d love to feel a girl your age (the latter line being a nice double entendre about emotions and/or hitting on the girl). Giddy Stratospheres is a dump the boring girlfriend and domestication, have wild sex with me song. Jackson calls the girl the “dead eyed bitch” says “she’ll never take you giddy stratospheres,” jeers “have you forgotten/what it’s like to have her on all fours?” The girl is boring, the song rides a killer guitar riff, and Jackson the character’s quite bemused - she knows she’s not going to get the guy back, most likely, but she can’t help snottily telling him what he’s missing. The next song “in the company of women” talks about how competitive Jackson feels over a guy - and she’s “waiting in the wings for you to make your first mistake so watch out girl.” Then there’s “Heaven Help the New Girl,” which implies that hey nineteen from “Once and Never Again” has gotten Jackson’s boyfriend - and she can have him, fights and a terrible flat and all.
All this feminine competition is disconcerting. It pushes the listener away from the Long Blondes. Kate Jackson would, sincerely, steal your boyfriend and not feel so bad about it (even though she’s “too old,” and references being too old, at a mere 26, another annoying affectation). After this suite of songs, there’s a short break with Separated by Motorways, a shouty number that’s one of the Blondes’ first singles. Jackson wrote the lyrics - she says “oh girl you’re too wonderful” after citing rumors of blow jobs with the neighborhood boys, and the song ends, happily, with two lonely girls going on the run. Perfect.
The last five songs on the album hang together differently. “You Could Have Both” is sung by the other woman, Jackson again, offering a life as a side-girl, with a spoken word breakdown about what, I suppose, is a quarterlife crisis “That’s what happens/when you’re listening to Saint Scott Walker. On headphones. On the bus.” Whereas “Weekend Without Makeup” has this character all domesticated, and she hates it - she’s a landlady these days.
Second album: “Guilt” is kind of involving, a story about a girl in a couple tempted by another boy. “I got a boy and we fit together, see/before I knew you and you knew me.” It’s good. And the bridge comes together nicely “so tell me/when you’re out next, so I don’t go at you and make a fool of myself again.” Then she claims that she’s “making her choice and sticking to it.” There’s a lot going on in the song. “Couples” sounded better to me when I thought it was about the loneliness of the rock band lead singer “people everynight tell me that they love me/ you’re not lonely, I am baby” - but I had misheard the lyrics. “People every where they tell me that they’re lonely/you’re not lonely, I am baby,” that’s different. Sadder. Commiserating in mutual misery. *Oh! According to Perpetua, the album booklet has the lyric as this: “these people have the nerve to tell me that they’re lonely.” Meaner! This one has Jackson seeing couples everywhere, always noticing the appreciative eye of the boy, and feeling done with this town. It works.
The next song, “I Liked the Boys,” Jackson’s domesticated - like the first album’s “Weekend Without Makeup” - but in this case, she’s “lying in the hay/looking at the stars/when I was young I liked the boys/when I was young you were my boy.” The mood: resigned, lovely. Bittersweet. “Too clever by half” is sort of a hilarious disco vamp - Jackson’s claiming that she’ll get with her cheating boyfriend’s significant other, as a revenge on their nefarious plans to run off with each other. “Erin O'Connor,” on the other hand, addresses lovers’ rock by suggesting that sex would be better if he would “close your eyes/and think of Erin O'Connor/I’ll pretend I’m Lily Cole/and I’ll imagine that you’re someone else as well.” It’s one of the best songs on the album, succinctly summing up ennui with pretense. It’s way sadder than it sounds. “Nostalgia” continues the themes - looking back on a love life, “that was just nostalgia/ I may never have a daughter because there’s far too much to tell/and far too much to answer for…that’s all in the past.” The last song, “I’m Going to Hell,” is one of the giddiest - assuming this bad behavior, this being careless with people’s hearts, spoiled and greedy and rapacious, is just leading towards certain damnation, so why not enjoy it?
I liked the music of The Long Blondes, Kate Jackson’s style, far before I liked the songs. I always felt like they were pushing me away, like I was potential competition, not a passive listener. They kind of pissed me off. But I think part of it is due to the lyrics, and the weird way that Kate Jackson is playing such a role as the singer, inhabiting a variety of female insecurities at the same time. They’re not talked about that much. She’s always playing the Jolene, giddily singing “If that’s your boyfriend (he wasn’t last night),” admitting that she’s a fuck up, seeking an easy cure in sex. It’s a complicated angle. One that I’m not used to hearing from a female voice - even if she is channeling someone else’s fantasies. There is something interesting and cinematic about The Long Blondes, and something there to learn from. I’m not sure what it is yet. But they could’ve been stars.