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Blonde Redhead makes musical brain food that is good for you. Unfortunately, the best rock music has always been more likely to rot your teeth. Kazu Makino and identical twins Simone and Amedeo Pace have obviously studied music seriously somewhere; now they stand as proof that rock is best left in the hands of longhairs who know enough to create a good riff but not so much that they fuck it up with inane theories devised by people who like to pummel toy pianos with mallets, or whatever. Listening to Blonde Redhead brings to mind those Anthony Braxton albums with the mathematical equations on the back of them that explain his music—the implication being that you can’t appreciate the material without a degree from MIT.
Manhattan’s avant-rock crowd and their camp followers can’t say enough good things about Blonde Redhead, who initially labored in the shadow of Sonic Youth but now seem to have come into their own. But the band’s songs are prickly as cacti and just about as hard to hug. They reek of musical intelligence—Blonde Redhead is a musician’s band if ever I heard one—but are as sterile as surgical instruments. This is music made by the kind of people who no doubt sneer at Celine Dion—but then, wearing your heart on your sleeve is better than having no heart at all.
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Co-produced by Ryan Hadlock and Guy Picciotto, the music on Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons is often admirable but never lovable. The record includes a couple of songs you can appreciate in an academic kind of way and a few songs that will make you think that Yoko Ono’s music wasn’t so terrible after all, because this is worse. Unlike Stereolab, which is similarly frosty but at least manages to throw in a good long Velvet Underground groove here and there, Blonde Redhead is one big chill. The title of Blonde Redhead’s CD suggests that the band members might possess a quirky sense of self-dismissive humor, but it’s not on display either in the music or in their interviews, which reveal that they live together in an underground bunker somewhere in Manhattan and that Makino believes that women are prevented from rocking out by Kotex—which somebody should tell to L7.
About the songs: “In Particular” is cool—funky, even—though you have to suffer through some deranged classical flute warbling (“Equally Damaged”) before you get to it. Good hand claps, too, though it’s safe to bet the band members rented somebody else’s hands to make ’em. There’s great drumming as well, with Makino’s vocals laid on top like icing laced with Freon. “Melody of Certain Three” is also percussion-driven but not quite as chilly; it ends with a great organ snaggle like something off a Deep Purple album—which, I’ll bet, the people in the band didn’t realize, or they’d have taken it off, like, pronto (too lowbrow, you know). “Hated Because of Great Qualities” is a great title wasted on a song remarkable only for its stolen Beatles riff, though, if you asked, the artistes in Blonde Redhead would likely say that they “adapted” it from some snooty suite by Terry Riley. And now that I think of it, “Loved Despite of Great Faults” is a blatant Beatles rip as well, straight off Abbey Road somewhere, which at least proves that Blonde Redhead has moved beyond aping Sonic Youth.
“Ballad of Lemons” is the kind of space music that appeals to people who wear turtleneck sweaters and live in all-white apartments. The song consists of a long series of blips—and would qualify as avant-garde if it went on for two hours or so rather than a couple of minutes. “This Is Not” isn’t—very interesting, that is. “A Cure” sounds worse than the disease, which the band does not specify. “For the Damaged” unfurls highfalutin piano music, atop which Makino suffers terribly, though not as much as you will. “Mother” raves up along the lines of the Boredoms and leaves the impression that, given enough amphetamines, Blonde Redhead might be an interesting live band. There’s a hidden track, too, stately piano and breathy vocals that effectively dispel any foolish notions one might have had of ever listening to Blonde Redhead again, whether it’s an interesting live band or not. I’ll say one thing for the band, though: It’ll make you fall in love with life all over again, because afterward, you’ll tear off your headphones, overjoyed to hear whatever banal noise the real world is making. CP