REVIEW: Blonde Redhead, 23, 4AD

Posted April 23rd, 2007 by eric · No Comments

It’s true that the moment Blonde Redhead signed with the legendary 4AD records, the band’s sound changed significantly. Sure, it could be argued that its last record for Touch and Go, 2000’s Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, hinted at the process with a notable reliance on keyboards, but once 2004’s Misery is a Butterfly was released the band was in lock-step with the familiar ethereal gauze of the 4AD sound.

Blonde Redhead used to be one of my favorite bands. I didn’t care that the Sonic Youth influence had long loomed large over the band’s angular, no-wave aesthetic. There was something desperate and mysterious in the way its songs transformed from wide-eyed innocence to a fiery sexual tension with just one of Kazu Makino’s vocal hiccups or Amedo Pace’s non-linear strains. Blonde Redhead had always rocked on the artsy side, but where the guitar once reigned supreme the keyboard has since commandeered the ship.

Not only has the keyboard edged its way to the forefront of the mix, but the band has dropped any notion of its post-punk foundation. Now, Blonde Redhead writes big songs with big backdrops. I don’t know if it feels pressure to live up to the 4AD name, but it shouldn’t. There were plenty of exceptions to 4AD’s goth-lite sound, from the Pixies to Throwing Muses. But it’s almost as though Blonde Redhead has been ready and willing to drop any notion of its punk roots to cloak itself with the class of more important bands, where it feels it must have belonged all along.

For 23 Blonde Redhead turns the soft-focus delicacy of Misery is a Butterfly into even softer-focus shoegaze. Kazu Makino’s voice floats over layer upon layer of delicate textures without any sense of urgency or tension. There’s no hint of an edge. No suspense. No surprises. 23 meanders along with careful production by Alan Moulder (U2, Depeche Mode), who has made a career of smoothing over band’s edges, and here he makes Blonde Redhead sound like mush Lush.

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