So you know Chris Connelly’s long hair, black shirts, ripped jeans. As a dark and angsty member of Ministry, his snarling industrial anthems made you slam, sweat, spew out adolescent hatred for parents, teachers, cops. He bit hard, drew blood, enlivened you. Now let his lips wrap slowly around you, nibble gently, whisper secrets of beauty and gods. Blonde Exodus, the second album Connelly has released with his Bells project, is a lush and moody soundscape, extremely different from his work with Ministry, but equally powerful.
Despite his iconic status within the industrial rock scene, Connelly’s solo work has gone largely unrecognized, and Blonde Exodus thrives on an aura of cultish obscurity. Like a tired lounge singer in the bowels of Hollywood, Connelly churns out an epic story, both glamorous and grim. A conceptual album based on the destructive and creative fire of the female form, Blonde Exodus is about establishing a mood and highlighting a voice.
Swimming somewhere between David Bowie and Scott Walker, Connelly croons and whoops, evoking tragic imagery and haunting memories. The instrumentation (artful pop incorporating guitar, violin, cello, keyboards, and even a bit of harmonica) works as a pillow of sound supporting the vocals. That isn’t to say the instruments are without merit. Lulling guitar work by Chris Bruce gently tugs listeners from song to song, and adds stability to Connelly’s melodramatic stylings. And songs like “Blonde Exodus I” and “London Fields” would never reach their emotional peaks without such gorgeous string arrangements. A nod must also be given to back-up vocalists Chiyoko Yoshido and Denise Gamble. The female twinklings on “Julie Delpy” emanate a purity and crispness perfect for the content of the song.
And content is the thing. This is an album for aficionados of intelligent pop. Through poetic lyrics and elegant composition, Connelly urges us to explore his internal exodus: to understand the movement of models, the plunge of lovers, the undulating path of dreamers. The first track, “Generique”, is simply a reading of “Blonde Exodus I” in French, but the speaker’s voice takes on the eerie, airy quality of a flight attendant. Ideal for a musical journey.
Modern movement and desire is referenced heavily in the title track. (“Blonde exodus, they travel late at night, in a reel beneath the bedsprings, all the stars could not contain their maiden flight”.) Like innocent voyeurs, we must witness the migration of models and actresses to Hollywood. To magazine covers and TV shows and fits of despair. Sexual tension stirs under the guise of simple song progression, making “Blonde Exodus I” a highlight of the album.
Images of seductive transition surface again in “The Long Weekend”, with lyrics like (“Follow a path, but you will always fall into, the scream, the dream that’s falling into you”) and in “London Fields”, when Connelly purrs (“We jumped from rooftop to scandalous rooftop, pretending to fall, and we celebrated treasures of moonlight in the gutter we crawled”).
Blonde Exodus is filled with these oblique lyrical tales . . . guttural crooning and rich instrumentation only add to the drama. The album is darkly compelling, sexy, and luxuriant. Connelly has gone from leather to lace, and he still looks good.