In keeping with the group's move from Touch & Go to 4AD, Blonde Redhead's Misery Is a Butterfly is their darkest and most delicate album to date. The brilliant Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons and Melodie Citronique EP found the band moving away from the cerebral, no wave-influenced style of their earlier albums and toward a more intricate, emotional sound, but this album's preoccupation with filigree and shadow both reflects and represents the sensibilities of the label that released This Mortal Coil's Filigree and Shadow almost two decades earlier. The band's transition from their old home to their new one is smooth, but not as smooth as the album's actual sound; Misery Is a Butterfly's lush production and arrangements polish away with virtually all of the edges and angles that still informed their sound on their most recent recordings and pretty much defined their earliest ones. The move is both liberating and limiting: the album's soft focus allows Blonde Redhead to explore its relatively newfound romanticism more deeply than before -- particularly on the Eastern-tinged "Anticipation" -- but with less tension between the fragile and harsh aspects of the band's sound, its soft focus occasionally drifts into lack of focus. Songs such as "Melody" and the title track are lovely, but feel busier and more drawn-out than necessary; however, the indulgence that makes Misery Is a Butterfly's weakest moments somewhat ponderous also makes its best songs sweepingly romantic. The strings and keyboards that swirl around "Elephant Woman," "Doll Is Mine," and the gorgeous duet "Pink Love" give the album a brooding, overwrought feeling that conjures up fairy tales and lovesick recluses, and the album's song titles are just as evocative, alluding to love that is distorted, bruised, and in the case of "Equus," usually forbidden. There's something decadent about the album's layers of sound, and its wide scope paradoxically makes it one of Blonde Redhead's most insular albums; indeed, the indulgent isolation that permeates Misery Is a Butterfly makes it akin to Suede's Dog Man Star and Goldfrapp's Felt Mountain, in mood if not exactly in sound. The Blonde Redhead of old returns, somewhat, on more high-strung songs like "Falling Man" and "Maddening Cloud," both of which add some much-needed urgency to the album's mannered heartache. Misery Is a Butterfly might be a slightly less magical album than Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons because the listener is more aware of the effort going into the spell, but it's still an album of unusual grace.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares