At this point, it’s impossible to not come off like a glasses-on-noise poindexter, a total dweeb pointing out some imperfection, when discussing how a band’s full length doesn’t match up to their well-received EP. It’s happened too many times for it to be a narrative hook of a review (whoops), and it’s hardly interesting anymore. It’s as predictable as the turn of a clock. Every year, there will be bands that whiff when it comes to making their full length album.
So here are Blonds with The Bad Ones, hot on the heels of their darkly sensual Dark Roots EP from last year. Blonds’ backstory is pretty familiar post-Tennis; it was recorded by couple Cari Rae and Jordy Asher while they were living in Florida, and they never, ever expected anyone else to listen to it. They just liked making music together, man. Then they started writing a full-length, moved to Brooklyn, hooked up with Nicolas Vernhes (Dirty Projectors, Spoon), and got to writing their definitive musical statement: the thoroughly competent and unremarkable Bad Ones.
What made Dark Roots intriguing was the dark ooze that seemed to permeate at the edges of Blonds songs. They were songs about love, sure, but they took place in darkly realized milieus, like a Velvet Underground-loving couple writing lacerating love songs to each other. With the increased studio budget—hell, a studio budget—comes a cleaner production and those edges are now replaced with character-less, Revolver indebted, skeletal blues-inflected vintage pop. The only thing separating The Bad Ones from a Starbucks compilation is the promotional budget, and there’s no doubt in my mind it’s going to be huge. This is a movie trailer placement away from being the next Edward Sharpe.
And the thing is, the lyrics are already so close to advertisements, with big, simple statements—and an inexcusable ceiling/feeling rhyme scheme at one point—that aren’t that far from a makeup commercial. “Mr. E” in particular seems ready for that, with its lyrics about waiting for kisses and lyrics like “It’s in the air/ each breath could take us there” and its generically classic rock sounding composition. “Time,” with its “Time is on our side” howl, is probably already making the rounds at a laundry company’s ad agency.
It’s not all a waste and a disheartening about face though; lead single “Run” is a boiling slow-burner that crackles with the intrigue of their early material, the guitar solo on “Falling” is pretty charming, and “Locomotion” is one of the only tracks here that has real, well, locomotion. All in all, it’s hard to call The Bad Ones a total disaster, since it’s not like Blonds can or should be held to the standard of their first four songs. But it’s inevitable, and by that measure The Bad Ones falls short. That said, it’s possible to imagine this “breaking through,” whatever that means in 2012, and so by that measure, The Bad Ones is a probable success.