Think Kate Bush singing love songs to Morrissey, soundtracked by New Order in collaboration with Philip Glass. Cardiff’s Hot Puppies aren’t quite that good, of course, but at times they’re not too far away. When Becki Newman serenades you with lines like “somewhere there’s a deserted radio station/playing all the hits we used to know …. Oh I never said I’d take you there/I only said I’d take you somewhere,” you can pretty much forgive them anything.
Hot Puppies are gloriously 1980s, pulled off with the kind of cool that has been gently marinating for a quarter of a century, partying to the sounds of Bowie at midnight and soaked in the Bayou country blues of the Deep South as reimagined by Nick Cave. Would you expect any less from a band named after a poem by Dorothy Parker?
The result is something very listenable indeed. Dirty glam, broken paino chords and the contrasting vocals of the divine Becki Newman and a lowly fragile male voice (drummer and Mr Becki Burt Wood? Honestly, we do mourn the days when sleeve credits used to tell you these things!) over truly mesmerising harmonies.
Blue Hands is the band’s second album, following on from 2006’s Under the Crooked Moon, but the Puppies seem keen to downgrade their previous effort to a ‘story so far’ collection and claim this as their debut. Whether it counts as their first or second effort, Blue Hands is still an admirable achievement.
How to Choose a Wire, with Cure-esque bass and keyboards from the period of late punk-meets-electro-pop crossover that birthed most of their influences, is a particular treat amid an album packed with them. On songs such as Somewhere and Secret Burial, Newman takes vocal cues from Toyah, soaring and screaming in front of a musical backdrop that conjures visions of an overblown eighties video determined to exploit MTV to the limits.
Minimal piano interludes lead you into music hall shadows. The Word on the Street meets you in a dark alley, takes your hand and takes you to the slow jazz club on the next block your friends warned you about, before soaring away as it sweeps you onto the dancefloor.
Whether a true debut or not, Blue Hands is an ambitious and impressive album. Varied and expansive, sparse in places and deliberately, tongue-in-cheek overblown in others, it’s a clever and knowing collection of songs, putting its influences together so intelligently it doesn’t need to be coy about them. If Newman wants to be Kate Bush one minute and Peggy Lee the next she will be, and you’ll be rightly grateful for her efforts.
There is the downside that some of the songs stray into (shhh!) protest territory, but luckily not too overtly, and the cod politics are easy to ignore as you lose them amongst the music. The lyrics more than make up for themselves. If King of England is indeed an anti-war song, it’s as wrapped in sequins and gilt as The Human League classic The Lebanon and you just know you don’t really want to get into a fight with someone wearing that much eye make-up.
So, stand up, dance and rejoice. Hot Puppies deserve your love.