The melodic mutter and commanding shriek of the Blood Brothers’ dueling vocalists come together with every scream they share, and with an intense group of musicians to highlight this dichotomy, it’s clear that the key to the band’s success is balance. The Blood Brothers have steadily grown softer with every album, and 2004 saw their most accessible yet: Crimes was a major change from the more steady hardcore of debut This Adultery is Ripe and 2003’s well-respected Burn, Piano Island, Burn. It seems like a natural progression for the band — or in this case, part of it — to try to lure in a dance-friendly, hipper crowd. But the Headlines EP, released as a predecessor to the band’s debut LP, Chandeliers in the Savannah (released September 13), demonstrates why an EP should serve as a supplement to (and not as an indicator of) the full-length it advances.
The side project of vocalist Johnny Whitney and drummer Mark Gajadhar, Neon Blonde is being marketed as a more glam version of the Blood Brothers. If this is indeed the case, then marketing phrases like “RIYL Bowie” just might work with “Headlines” as an attention-grabber. The first single offers a bit of ironically tacky keyboard use — on mock-piano setting, mind you — and succeeds in displaying Whitney’s trademark vocal strut. What works to the EP’s disadvantage is the “Headlines” remix, done by fellow Seattle native Jay Clark (Pretty Girls Make Graves). In an attempt to tighten or add some flash to the single, the remix becomes cluttered, and Whitney’s once-prominent voice is now forced to compete with the added effects and guitar work. Further, the two extra songs exclusive to the EP — “Barbados Nights” (a condensed form of Jazzercise Hell) and “Savannah Nights” (as folky as these guys will ever get, considering their frontman’s wail) — only weaken what could be a well-executed single.
Still, the title track is catchy, and its vaguely-R&B beat actually complements Whitney’s flamboyant bravado, resulting in one sassy fucker of a song. And the concept — the murder of a teenage prostitute — makes for a thoughtful story that nearly defies the song’s somewhat danceable tone, concluding with the lines “In time we’ll forget your name, little girl/ Oh, in time, little girl, we’ll forget your face/ Because we’re moving on to another horrifying murder case.”
“Headlines” is nonetheless an interesting selection for a single when considering a band of this caliber. It completely stands out from the rest of Chandeliers, which, while significantly poppier than most of the Blood Brothers’ work, is accessible in the vein of Crimes in that it can reach the band’s biggest potential audience but continues to prove Whitney and Gajadhar as rock musicians, not pop stars. Were we to dismiss the single’s strangely approachable beats, “Headlines” still lacks Whitney’s priceless scream, which in itself makes the song a stray hair on an album not terribly different from the Blood Brothers’ last release. Say what you will about Neon Blonde. These men are still hardcore musicians at heart.