- Audio CD (13 Sept. 2010)
- Number of Discs: 1
- Label: 4AD
- ASIN: B003UDBSVO
- Other Editions: Audio CD | Vinyl | MP3 Download
- Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 98,334 in CDs & Vinyl (See Top 100 in CDs & Vinyl)
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Seventeen years. It’s an eternity. Countries have fallen and marriages have crumbled in less time, so it’s pretty remarkable that Blonde Redhead have not only survived this long but have continued to prosper, now releasing one of their finest works to date.
Penny Sparkle, their eighth official studio album, is a downbeat, glossed affair that largely dispenses with the busy guitar camouflage of past records in favour of glacially cool synth and Kazu Makino’s ice-maiden wail. They’re a band who’ve always possessed an understated beauty but where it might have seeped and soaked through previously, with the absence of the droning guitar dynamics heard on 2007’s 23, here it’s allowed to flourish.
The minimal plod of Will There Be Stars is an early indication of Penny Sparkle’s often bleak atmosphere – Kazu’s ethereal vocals are given a break – but perhaps more pertinently it also confirms a pointed move away from the powerful blankets of guitar that characterised earlier albums. The gentle heaving of My Plants Are Dead, as beautiful as it is, is wracked with whispering indecision – it feels ready and poised to explode into a track of the most grandiose splendour, but is ultimately allowed to ghost past.
While Blonde Redhead have always had the capability to be a band who lavishly build it up just to deconstruct, and we took delight in that once upon a time, Penny Sparkle’s restrained, almost tentative indulgence echoes a fresh sentiment that buys into the idea that the biggest statements don’t necessarily have to be the loudest.
Several albums in, the intent is very much on re-focusing and refining, and there’s a clandestine balance throughout this album. Synths buzz and murmur without over burdening Kazu’s vocal; the percussion is clean and crisp; and arrangements burn slowly instead of dazzling. It’s a rising sound that’s both bleak and terse. Always building and beautiful, their sparse, even minimal, approach lends Penny Sparkle a complexity that’s both rich and rewarding in both its inspiration and execution.
Seamless and polished, unhurried and regularly wonderful, Blonde Redhead are sparkling with a new-found black beauty.
Top customer reviews
and Amadeo Pace. They have been making music since 1993
and their new album 'Penny Sparkle' took me by surprise,
partly because I hadn't heard them before but mostly
because this is such a lovely recording.
Together this fine little trio demonstrate the more
gentle face of contemporary electro-pop. This has a
great deal to do with Ms Makino's fragile and very
pretty voice (not unlike that of Lali Puna's Valerie
Trebeljahr at times) which glides effortlessly through
the ten numbers in this creditable collection.
The formula is an uncomplicated but effective one.
Uncluttered rhythm tracks are decorated with layers
of diaphanous synth chords and occasional guitar
accents. The pace of the music is uniformly slow to
mid-paced and I cannot imagine that anyone came even
close to breaking a sweat during its creation.
('Not Getting There' is about as sprightly as things get!)
'Love Or Prison' is a particularly interesting invention.
Not unlike Berlin's splendid 1986 song 'Take My Breath Away',
it trundles along laconically on the back of a fruity synth
obligato with Ms Makino's voice floating above it like a ghost.
'Your Plants Are Dead', as its title might suggest, is a
marvelously maudlin affair. The melody, however, is one of the
strongest in the bunch and even though the somewhat wayward
guitar tuning is a tad distracting (perhaps it's meant to be
that way!) it still manages to be one of the album's highlights.
Title track 'Penny Sparkle' is a haunting composition. The
stripped-down arrangement (redolent of some of Bjork's quieter
moments) is rather beautiful in a less-is-more kind of way.
'Oslo' seems to have become my favorite in the bunch. The cheeky
beats and fully-formed tune come quite near to being a pop song.
Ms Makino's ideosyncratic vocal peformance, however, enusres that
the band never strays too close to the mainstream!
Blonde Redhead's minimal grooves are unlikely to get you
dancing (although a smootch or two are potentially feasible!)
but there are more than enough good ideas on this album to
keep us quietly entertained and out of trouble for a while.
The 8th studio album is a nicely organized set of tracks, combining colorful tunes with darker ones in perfect harmony.
For fans the album is a must, specially in the Deluxe Edition, with plenty of design details to admire.
Most helpful customer reviews on Amazon.com
Looking back on it I don't think the slow,dreamy mood of the album should have been so jarring to me when I first gave it a listen. In a way I think this album has much in common with "Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons". On "Melody" the band turned down the guitars (mostly) and showed a softer, more intimate side to their sound. It also led to a string of albums where the band somehow managed to streach their sound in new directions while still managing to retain what is essential about themselves. I love the pre-Melody releases as well but looking back on it they all seem to be a variation of a theme, while everything after it has been a singular work of art.
What I love about "Penny" is it's beatiful, haunting simplicity. Yes, it is full of colorful keyboard and guitar work, but at it's core several of the songs are quite simple. Kazu's vocal melodies are exceptionally strong on this record, and I think several of the songs could pass the "acoustic campfire guitar test" that a great song will still work even if stripped to its bare essentials (the chords, melody, and lyrics).
Something about "Penny" makes me believe that, like "Melody", it will be the beginning of a new phase for the band. Then again, the new record could be a complete departure from "Penny". That's what I love about Blonde Redhead, all you can ever expect about each one of their releases is the band has put their whole heart and soul into it. Anything else about the record is sure to surprise (even confuse) the first time listener. The lesson I will keep in mind when I hear the new release (hopefully sometime this year!) is that, even if I don't like or understand it at first, I should give it time...
"Not getting there"
"My Plants are all Dead"
It's a must listen for any Blonde Redhead fan.