There’s always been a sense of unfinished business about The Long Blondes. They may have first appeared in the slipstream of Sheffield bands who showed up following the phenomenal success of Arctic Monkeys, but they were light years from the typical bunch of lads with shaggy haircuts and tight jeans. The Long Blondes were different: glamorous, mysterious and with a studied sense of style. They were more likely to namecheck Scott Walker or Arlene Dahl than write a song about cadging a B&H from someone or a fight down the local boozer.
And then, after two excellent albums, it all came to a shuddering, tragic halt in 2008 when guitarist and main songwriter Dorian Cox suffered a stroke, leaving him unable to play guitar. It was a particularly cruel way to halt the progress of a band who were very much the spiritual successors to Pulp, and there’s a ‘what if…’ in the air whenever those two albums are listened to nowadays.
It was also beginning to look as if we’d never hear Kate Jackson, their lead singer, sing again. After a few forays into solo work under the names of Madame Ray and The Kate Jackson Band, she relocated to Rome and focused on becoming a painter. Then, she eventually returned to some old demos she’d recorded with Bernard Butler, and the result may not quite be that long-awaited third Long Blondes album but it’s as close as we’re likely to get.
There may be no Cox on the album (although he is happily back to full health and recording music again), but Butler makes a perfect foil for Jackson’s songs. One thing that was noticeable about the Long Blondes was their uncanny knack for a decent pop hook, and Jackson’s continued that on British Road Movies: opening track The End Of Reason slides and glides along while berating someone who’s “wasted another day” watching reality TV and using social media while Metropolis stomps and stamps beautifully while Jackson recreates that sense of urban ennui, singing that “this city pulls me to pieces”.
Some songs from the nascent stage of Jackson’s solo career also appear, primarily Wonder Feeling which was first released in 2011 and sounds just as intoxicating and vital five years later. It’s a rollicking celebration of travel and romance, with possibly the quintessential Jackson opening lyric (“Palm trees and glitter balls, encounters in the mirrored wall”) and declarations of love to railway stations and motorways. Decorated with some typically fiery Butler guitar licks, it also has a chorus that won’t leave your head for days.
Jackson’s other early single The Atlantic is also included, as is a re-recording of an early demo called Lie To Me, which could well be one of the best songs on British Road Movies: a shimmering, ’60s flavoured stroll with so much twangy reverbed guitar and strings it’s a shock to discover that Richard Hawley wasn’t involved in some way. At the other end of the scale are the moody, morose 16 Years, featuring a spoken word vocal by Jackson and some vintage early Suede-style riffs from Butler, and the dramatic piano ballad Last Of The Dreamers.
It’s an album that sums up the mantra ‘good things come to those who wait’. There’s not a bad track on British Road Movies, and those who have been pining for years to hear Jackson’s voice again will be more than satisfied. It may not be the return of the Long Blondes, but this could evolve into something even better.