Something strange is going on in Hartlepool tonight. Through the freezing salty mist of this sedate British seaside town, a crowd of impeccably turned-out kids are fighting for space in the queue outside a run-down venue. They're here to see the curiously namedDead Eyed Bitches, a band that appeared, pictureless, on MySpace four months ago.
In fact, this mysterious group are nothing more than an elaborate ruse by Sheffield's the Long Blondes, whose U.K. fame has reached such heights that they have to resort to subterfuge to play intimate gigs. It wasn't always this way. For quite a while, the Blondes were touted by the press as "Britain's best unsigned band," picking up awards, but no record deal. "It was pretty depressing," admits bassist Reenie Hollis, hiding behind a wig and glasses backstage. Finally, they burst out of obscurity with their 2006 debut album, Someone to Drive You Home, coproduced by ex-Pulp bassist Steve Mackey.
The quintet -- Kate Jackson (vocals), Dorian Cox (guitar, keyboards), EmmaChaplin (guitar), Screech Louder (drums), and Hollis -- immediately screamed for attention with their intelligent pop and effortless chic. Jackson, who once worked in a vintage-clothes shop, was crowned a style icon. ("I didn't really notice that," she insists, "though I did see a few more people wearing berets round Sheffield.") The record was a collection of cinematic tales from another era, taking in the band's love of everything from Roxy Music to Belle and Sebastian to Pop Art of the late 1950s and '60s. "The British strain [of Pop Art] added a splash of color to these gray, suburban places," says Cox. "I saw a parallel between them and us, escaping boredom."
On their sophomore album, Couples (Rough Trade), the Blondes veer confidently from disco ("Century") to lounge jazz ("Too Clever by Half"). Lyrically, it's more abstract, too, with Cox still writing most of the words for Jackson. "It's hard to feel the soul if you haven't written it yourself," Jackson confesses. "You become an actress playing a role. I have many different roles as Kate Jackson, singer of the Long Blondes."With a spring tour upcoming, she's got yet another part: cultural ambassador to theU.S. She'll no doubt play it with panache.
- Couples samples the voices of Brit cult icons, including comedian Ronnie Corbett and broadcaster Terry Wogan. "We found him on an old '60s tape recorder," Cox says of Wogan, laughing. "It was like a weird, spooky time capsule."
- DJ/remixer Erol Alkan, whose club night Trash ruled indie London from 1997 to 2007, produced the album.
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