Harshness can become bland. Grit can turn into boredom. Without dynamic and lyrical contrast, rock albums obsessed with scorching noise transform into background music, unable to engage. Despite their best efforts, Blood Red Shoes fall into this unfortunate trap. Their new self-titled album uses grittiness as a crutch and the music suffers for it.
The album starts off promisingly with a sub-two minute instrumental track, “Welcome Home”, which sets the smoldering tone for the rest of the album. It’s the duo’s best work on their respective instruments. Laura-Mary Carter’s guitar is streamlined excellently and Steven Ansell’s drums are driving. Disappointingly enough, it’s one of the few tracks here that doesn’t devolve into rock clichés. The following track, “Everything at Once”, has a plodding two note riff and a completely unnecessary cowbell. Similarly, “Grey Smoke” attempts to move along with a sultry swing that will sound familiar to Queens of the Stone Age fans, but it falls flat and the chorus seems to have been spliced on from a different song. “The Perfect Mess” has Ansell singing “your stories get boring and old” which fits the song, with its uninspired riff and utterly predictable chorus, quite well.
There are a few songs to be salvaged. “Behind a Wall” has a nice build to its chorus and proves that Blood Red Shoes can make great dynamic shifts if they want to. “Stranger” is undoubtedly the best song here and one of the finest songs in Blood Red Shoes’ catalog. The gothic harpsichord that pushes the song along is a welcome change to the usual mundane guitar leads. Carter also gives a great vocal performance and Ansell’s drumming is subtle yet moving. When the song really starts growing at the latter half, brass comes in, boosting the song’s potency.
The good songs here illustrate the major problems that the rest of the album is held back by. “Behind a Wall”, “Welcome Home”, and “Stranger” all show signs of experimentation while nearly every other song falls well in Blood Red Shoes’ comfort zone. The duo have found new strengths on Blood Red Shoes, but they prefer to stick to old, and often, tired sounds. It should be noted that a few of these songs, when taken out of the context of the album, work well. The thrashing “Speech Coma” has a violent atmosphere and fuzzy guitars, but when placed before the generic “Don’t get Caught” it becomes just another rocker.
After “Stranger”, the album creates further blandness. Both “Cigarettes in the Dark” and “Tightwire” are lacking in hooks or moving sections. These songs seem to be mostly made of air and pass by without any fuss or interest. Carter’s oddly constrained vocals on “Tightwire” serve as the album’s closer, fittingly. It’s frustrating to hear these songs, as another band with more interest in pushing themselves to the limit could make them burst with ravenous, angry energy. Instead, Blood Red Shoes is an album firmly wedged in comfort, occasionally straying out into more interesting waters, but usually retreating to old tricks. For an album that tries so hard to be angry it’s just mild.