At the start of Bloodletting there’s a sound like the chittering of giant ants in the ’50s horror movie Them!. The song we then hear is about vampires. On the second track, singer Johnette Napolitano howls the words ”young naked prey.” We seem to be in the midst of a horror tale.
But the vampire number — propelled by a stalking bass riff — turns out to be about the loss of human happiness, not about horror or blood. Its meaning is starkly clarified later by a song called ”The Beast,” in which the monster that will rend your heart turns out to be love. So in other words the horror on this album, the third by Concrete Blonde, is psychological.
Horror isn’t all that’s going on. There’s a haunting song about a troubled friend (”Caroline”); a song about the comfort of love (”Lullabye”); a song with a curiously deep and pattering beat about the need for self-sufficiency in love (”I Don’t Need A Hero”). There’s even a full-fledged arena-rock song, with a warm pop glint (”Joey”).
You don’t run across albums with a range this wide every week. Nor do you find albums so consistent — there’s not a single routine song — or so often beautiful. Knitting everything together is the smoky sound of Napolitano’s voice, sometimes intimate, sometimes sardonic, sometimes torn by passion, always unguarded.
It’s this last quality, bordering on wide-eyed naivete, that can make Concrete Blonde seem self-indulgent. So can the not-quite-housebroken squeal of James Mankey’s guitar. But then it’s precisely this sometimes messy informality that makes me love the band. ”Bloodletting” is a strange, strong album from a group that deserves a shot at mainstream success.