After years of a constant release-tour-release cycle, Blood Red Shoes decided they were sick of the sight of each other back in 2014. In classic rock band style, the sibling duo separated in order to find themselves. For singer-guitarist Laura-Mary Carter, this involved getting on a one-way flight to the USA and writing songs for pop producers.
There’s an old Scottish phrase “gang aft agley” which roughly translates as “often go wrong”. It’s something that definitely applies to the events of the last few years for both halves of the band. The after effects of limb breakages and relationships ending have contributed make Get Tragic an album that could never have come from the Blood Red Shoes of old. Scores of albums have been made when the bands behind them are in personal turmoil and, whilst it would be wrong to suggest that this leads to creative peaks (Metallica’s St Anger being a proper stinker), the likes of Fleetwood Mac, Lou Reed, Creedence Clearwater Revival and The Kinks made some incredible music in the midst of personal chaos.
Thankfully, Get Tragic doesn’t fall into the St Anger camp. Carter suffering a broken arm in her bike accident meant she was unable to play guitar, instead taking to a keyboard (with one hand, presumably) in order to write new music. The resulting bright, bold synth sheen envelops everything on the album. Fate, it would seem, has led the band into new and interesting avenues that makes Get Tragic positively pulsate with a pop nous not previously notably present.
Opening up with Eye To Eye, Blood Red Shoes cut to the chase. “We don’t see eye to eye,” intones Carter over a darkened pop-pulse. It bristles with barely constrained contempt, and yet tied up in those seething synths, there’s a finely honed elegance. Despite not seeing eye to eye, the pair have combined to create a darkened slice of pop gold. Mexican Dress takes Rocket From The Crypt’s On A Rope, adds a deceptively coy vocal into the mix that turns into a roar for the chorus, and then throws a stack of congas down the stairs for good measure. It’s far more controlled than that sounds, but for all of the tongue biting that the pair claim is going on, there’s a barely concealed rage here. Blood Red Shoes have never sounded so focused and alive.
One look at the song titles suggests that there’s still a little uncertainty lingering in the Blood Red Shoes camp. Titles like Howl, Anxiety and Vertigo point to the state of mind that the pair must have endured when pulling the album together. Whilst the post-club thrum of Nearer suggests fevered panic attacks, they’re swamped under waves of assertive guitars and pounding drum patterns. Anxiety sounds exactly as its title suggests. Riddled with doubt, Steven Ansell’s vocals here seem almost resigned to failure – “What if I’m too old… I feel the future slip away from me” – whilst also stating that he could take a chance, but it terrifies him. Thankfully, he’s got Carter to lend him a bit of support and her guitars pull him along throughout, juxtaposing his doubt with a positive musical force that is impossible to resist. They might have been sick of the sight of each other four years ago, but they clearly need each other to make music this good.
The album closes with what might be their finest moment to date. Elijah is a roaring colossus of a song. Veering from understated verses to explosive outpourings, it’s a tumultuous ride through conflicting emotions. It’s as heavy as the band has ever sounded, yet the pair’s pop sensibility still cuts through the murky synths, crashing guitars and pounding drums. “I hear you fucked up again, Elijah, one day you’re up then you’re down,” intones Carter, shortly before unleashing a wave of roaring guitars. It’s an exhilarating and spellbinding closure to an emotionally raw and thrilling pop record (because it is a pop record, despite its rock sensibilities). After a series of downs that would finish most bands, Get Tragic sounds like a new start for its creators.