"Separated by motorways / The A14 and the A1”
The Long Blondes – Kate Jackson’s much-missed former band – were always fixated with transportation and travelling. Jackson moved north from Suffolk for university and the above lyric, from The Long Blondes’ 2005 single ‘Separated By Motorways’, describes the route from her home town of Bury St. Edmund’s to Sheffield, where she studied.
Now back in Bury St. Edmund’s by way of a stint in Rome, Jackson’s keen eye for detail and tendency to romanticise the act of getting from A to B show no signs of abating. As well as the album title’s obvious allusion to the UK’s highways and byways, tracks have names like ‘Homeward Bound’ and ‘Stranded’. Indeed, ‘Wonder Feeling’, a song that dates back to 2011, contains the lines: “Life-changing conversations / I’m in love with railway stations / Wonder feeling / Take me to the motorway.”
Jackson has set out these ten tracks with the intention of each one comprising a self-contained film. Whilst there may be nothing here that will trouble the suits of Hollywood any time soon, Jackson is clearly one of life’s observers, and has a deft way with lyrics. ‘16 Years’, a song about a friendship dissolving over time, sets the scene by opening with, “Your house was bright, with dirty, patterned carpets / From football trainers and ballet shoes / I wish I’d said how much I wanted / To be ordinary, like you.” Lines like this may have been more de rigueur a decade ago, but it’s striking how no-one seems to write kitchen sink vignettes like this any longer.
Musically, ‘British Road Movies’ takes its cues from ‘Someone To Drive You Home’, The Long Blondes’ new wave-influenced debut, rather than its Italo-focused successor, the patchy ‘Couples’. This means Jackson’s voice – always powerful but never overdoing it – can take centre stage, which is probably for the best. The guitars are as choppy as you would want, but often there seems to be a disconnect present, in a similar way to how Morrissey’s solo albums miss the spark of Johnny Marr. This is made all the more surprising considering the guitarist in question is Bernard Butler.
The aforementioned ‘16 Years’ is where everything comes together though. It’s potentially a companion piece to Pulp’s ‘Disco 2000’, telling a different story of two people who grew up together but have gradually drifted apart. Jackson’s narrator travelled the world and has only memories to show for it, whereas her counterpart married, had children and settled into domesticity. Both envy facets of the other’s life, and there’s the heart-rending dichotomy of their realisation that they’ll always be friends, but due to what they went through years ago rather than any recent shared experiences. Here, Butler judges his accompaniment just right, as his melody line bobs and weaves its way through the chorus, recalling his best work on Suede’s peerless debut LP.
While ‘British Road Movies’ can’t quite match the shock of the new provided by The Long Blondes’ early material, it’s a strong and confident comeback, and better than we’d any right to expect from someone who hasn’t been involved in an album release for over eight years. We’re lucky to have her – the world of music is a better place with Kate Jackson in it.
Words: Joe Rivers
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