The Long Blondes' second album, Couples, avoids the clichéd sophomore slump by taking some chances and leaving behind the joyous clatter and clutter of their debut for a more emotionally powerful, sonically adventurous approach. With producer Erol Alkan behind the boards, the group removes the punk from its post-punk sound and adds more post. That is, more icy detachment, more space and careful arrangement of instruments, and more of an eye to the disco-punk dancefloor. Where the songs on Someone to Drive You Home were bursting with energy, the songs here feel like they were taken right from the studio, stored in a freezer for a month, and then mastered onto disc. (Think the Blondie of "X Offender" versus the Blondie of "Heart of Glass" for a quick and relevant comparison.) Even the songs like "Erin O'Connor" that start off with some fire and spunk end up being bathed in atmosphere before too long. While the decision is a risky one that might put off fans looking for Someone II or a song as addictive as "Once and Never Again," ultimately it is a wise move that shows a band intent on making interesting albums and not just rehashing the same territory. Not that the group has forsaken catchy tunes or made an unlistenable record. Not by a long shot. There are still plenty of strong melodies and catchy songs to hold on to, still songs you'd want to drop into a playlist -- like the hopeful, un-nostalgic "Nostalgia" or "I'm Going to Hell," a stomping rocker that is most reminiscent of the songs on Someone. "Guilt" is likely the song that will stick, riding a funky backbeat and a hooky chorus deep into the memory banks. So, the sound of the album is arresting and the songs are good, but the true star of the album is vocalist Kate Jackson. She showed herself to be quite adept at delivering punky pop songs on Someone; on Couples she blooms into a quite impressive interpreter of lyrics. Perhaps her ability to inhabit different characters (like the desperate lover on the lam on the harrowing "Round the Hairpin" or the sad nightclub philosopher on "The Couples") comes from singing guitarist Dorian Cox's lyrics and not her own (she only wrote words for two of the ten tracks), or maybe she's destined to become an actress like her Charlie's Angels namesake. Either way, she makes each song come alive beautifully, and her alternately tough and tender (to the point of fragile beauty on the heartbreaking "Too Clever by Half") vocals help make the album an impressive triumph over the age-old dilemma of how to follow up a successful debut. It also strikes a blow for taking chances and not resting on your accomplishments, but most importantly, Couples is an exciting, challenging listen full of brains, daring, and plenty of icy heart.
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AllMusic Review by Tim Sendra