Blue October are a unique band, not only because of their ethereal brand of modern rock, but because they must be one of few acts to be re-signed by the same major label which dropped them.
After the release of the excellent Consent to Treatment in 2000, Universal ditched the band, leaving the five-piece to work on a follow-up, and prompting lead singer Justin Furstenfeld to write in Blue October’s bio on their official website: “The new album [History for Sale] is almost like a form of vengeance to our old label [Universal]. We want to show them that we were never into making music to make radio hits, but rather to reach out to our listeners.”
But despite such scathing criticism, Universal resigned the Texas-based band earlier this year after the self-released album had led to the band featuring in a host of label showcases, and after hastily rewriting the band’s biography, have now released History for Sale in collaboration with Brando Records. According to the updated bio, Furstenfeld couldn’t be happier with the arrangement. “We’re excited about working together again,” he says. “We hugged, kissed, made amends, and now we’re having the best sex ever.”
Away from the politics of such odd reunions, History for Sale emphatically shows why Universal were so keen to reinstate Blue October to its roster. Furstenfeld may moan in “Inner Glow”, “Call it rock or pop or Bach or fuck / Goddamn where did we go wrong? / Now there’s a category for every song”, but there’s no chance of Blue October’s music being pigeonholed quite so easily. It’s a weird and wonderfully eclectic mix of influences and contrasting emotions that should appeal to the more discerning music fan but is also capable of wider, mainstream success.
First single “Calling You” is testament to that potential, combining Furstenfeld’s typical lyrical intensity combined with a memorable melody and as it’s the closest Blue October come to a love song, the contrast between this and the scathing, full-on assault of “Razorblade” is marked. Dealing with the horrific subject of the scandal of child abuse by priests, Furstenfeld can barely conceal his fury as he spits “In a way I failed religion / I spit the wine from mouth to cup / There’s no forgiveness for you now / You sick fuck”. Almost as seething in its intensity is “Somebody”, which may or may not allude to Blue October’s separation with the label they have now reunited with, but it’s a storming rock song either way.
But Blue October are masters at diversifying their sound, as the presence of a violin in opener “Ugly Side” and the subdued trip-hop of the brilliantly touching “Come in Closer” demonstrate. Elsewhere, acoustic ballad “Amazing” closes the album in typically complex style, with Furstenfeld’s dark, revealing lyrics once more captivating the attention, while the upbeat “Clumsy Card House” is wonderfully arranged and the two-minute flute-infused “3 Weeks, She Sleeps” is almost a folk tune with its delicate refrain. But perhaps the highest praise is reserved for “Inner Glow”, a Jekyll-and-Hyde song that is part pop-rock, part folk and part metal, and the deeply personal “Chameleon Boy”, a song about Furstenfeld’s feelings of guilt about not doing enough to help a friend who died of a drug overdose (“Here come excuses / Of why I let you down”). Both, like many others on this record are examples of pure, unadulterated brilliance from the mind of a tortured genius.
Consent to Treatment was a good album which revealed Blue October’s originality, insightful lyrics and diverse approach, but History for Sale is breathtakingly powerful, more emotive and more challenging. To put in simpler terms, it’s so good, I doubt Universal will be making the same mistake twice.