“Couples”, the follow-up to this Sheffield-formed band's sharp 2006 debut Someone to Drive You Home, arrives with its title swaddled in quotation marks, as if to reinforce its sense of detachment and cool irony. The emphasis wasn't necessary: this is an icy, haughty offering, giving off the impression that it'd be deeply shamed to admit to experiencing an emotion. While such aloofness might merit criticism in most genres, in the world of Pop Art it's a badge of honour. And Pop Art — or at least art-pop — is what the Long Blondes most certainly aspire to be.
If Blondie were the epitome of self-conscious Warhol-influenced pop, all attractive surfaces and a narcissistic refusal to acknowledge the true turmoil of angst, their modern-day heirs are every bit as clinically effective. Erol Alkan's production is willfully one-dimensional; Kate Jackson's vocals are precise and thin. As the band look down their noses at the frantic sweatiness of most rock, the results resonate with chilly sexuality. Almost every track deals with foiled lust and dysfunctional romance while tinting its voyeurism with a dash of grim, Jarvis Cocker-like realism.
There's an '80s sheen to the slim-line sonics: you can detect Soft Cell or Human League in the clipped rhythms of “Nostalgia” or the pre-emptively titled “Too Clever By Half.” “Guilt” and “I Liked the Boys” are equal parts caustic and confessional. They're in love with retro-futurism. Only on “Round the Hairpin” do they take a darker twist, throwing Banshees-esque shards of guitar and primal drums into the equation.
It's not an easy trick to pull off, this deadpan silk-screening of the passions which drive pop home. Yet the Long Blondes have it down so fine they may be the glassy gurus of a new blank generation. “Couples” is a singular success.