Literate, lusty, fueled by a skewed Britishness – we’d been here before, but we’d enjoyed it. In an era where British guitar music was once again a highly commercial endeavour, post-punk and Blur-style badinage was prominent, the voyeuristic verve of Pulp was conspicuous by its wardrobe-hiding absence. Step forward, then, The Long Blondes, a band that had Cocker’s cocksure struts with a glam, vintage sheen.
Released ten years ago this month, the band’s debut record Someone To Drive You Home stood out even in an era replete with rock music – its tales of suburban frustrations, dashed romanticism and cinematic sheens, all delivered with a wry, Jarvis-esque detachment, elevated the record above the noise. The Pulp references, of course, would be hard to ignore – in frontwoman Kate Jackson, they had a female match for the wiry warbler. A femme fatale with a penchant for fine art and vintage clothing, Jackson’s throaty delivery perfectly punctuated the tales of breaking boys’ hearts, trying to grow up and surviving banal socialism. Not only that, but Pulp’s bassist Steve Mackey took on production duties. They even enjoy a Pulp-esque slice of spoken-word, a la ‘David’s Last Summer’, in the eerie segue of ‘You Could Have Both’ (and, just like Cocker, they doff their cap to Scott Walker). And, lastly, they were a new entry in a long line of Sheffield starlets that stretched as far as Pulp to The Human League and, of course, their contemporaries Arctic Monkeys.
The five-piece’s main weapon, though, was guitarist Dorian Cox. Not only adept at carving out Smithsian jangles and disco-tinged guitar motifs, he was also the band’s chief lyric writer; with Cox, the band had an enviable ability for creating kitchen sink vignettes from a female point-of-view, giving Jackson’s strong vocal performances significant credence. Although Jackson would also contribute lyrics herself, it was Cox’s penmanship that elevated the band, moulding Jackson as 2006’s Louise Wener, perfectly presented in the finger-pointing thrash of ‘Giddy Stratospheres’ (“is she a femme fatale? That’s what she wants you to think”).
By the time Someone To Drive You Home arrived, The Long Blondes had already courted recognition from fans and critics alike. Lead single ‘Once And Never Again’ was a playful jangle, almost rockabilly in its chugging guitars as a tale of Mike Leigh-esque adolescent aloofness played out. “19, you’re only 19 for God’s sake, oh you don’t need a boyfriend,” implores Jackson before adding, with cynical self-deprecation, “I know how it feels to be your age, you only have to do it once.” One of indie music’s greatest tragedies is that ‘Once And Never Again’ hasn’t enjoyed a permanent shelf-life; its combination of youthful wistfulness and uptempo rhythms had it earmarked for an indie disco staple, just like ‘Emily Kane’ and ’22 Grand Job’ before it.
“You’ll never be 19 again,” laments Jackson later in the record, “and I thought I told you before – you don’t need a boyfriend”. The album’s mid-point, ‘Heaven Help The New Girl’, betrays the record’s impish idiosyncrasies by injecting an element of ghostly regret, Jackson taking on the role of cautious adviser over Cox’s mournful arpeggios. For the most part, though, Someone To Drive You Home was cheerful and mischievous, from the punky shout-a-longs of ‘Separated By Motorways’ and ‘Swallow Tattoo’, to the Blondie-esque (a band The Long Blondes would take clearer influence from later) ‘Weekend Without Makeup’, both successful singles, adding to The Long Blondes’ limitless potential.
Someone To Drive You Home was a breath of fresh air, a giddy blast of nimble fretwork, coquettish romance and a vintage veneer, and quite rightly earned a slew of rave reviews. Not only did it bring together a broad swath of influences, from the glam grit of Suede to the lo-fi rumblings of The Fall (at their post-punk peak), but it had a literate streak that gave the band an intelligent aesthetic; the fact opener ‘Lust in the Movies’ namechecks French actress Anna Karina, as well as Edie Sedgwick, is proof of a group not afraid to bring their myriad influences together into a compelling melting pot.
The band followed it up with 2008’s Couples, and festival slots, as well as supporting Duran Duran, were all in the pipeline, but then tragedy struck. Cox suffered a serious stroke, and his long, agonising road to recovery, which included having to learn how to play guitar all over again, effectively ended The Long Blondes in November 2008. Since then, Jackson spent an interminable period making a solo album with ex-Suede guitarist Bernard Butler, which was finally released earlier this year.
The Long Blondes were a band that were sadly struck by grave misfortune, but the greatest tragedy is that, ten years on, Someone To Drive You Home isn’t spoken in the same awed appreciation as His & Hers or other striking records of the genre; it’s still a startlingly consistent, and thoroughly enjoyable, slice of intertextual impressiveness.