Du Blonde - Welcome Back to Milk
A glance at the album cover swiftly confirms that Beth Jean Houghton's new guise as Du Blonde is a departure (although not quite as confrontational as the nudey hair metal vibe suggests), but you wouldn't have to see the artwork to know Welcome Back to Milk is a different beast altogether to the 2012 debut from Beth and her Hooves of Destiny. Open your ears and it's quite apparent from the get-go: 'Black Flag's swaggering strut is anchored by grungy guitars, propulsive drums and a snarling vocal straight from an early-noughties PJ Harvey record. It's bold and big on attitude, but more grounded and focused than the work of a younger Beth. Perhaps a bad breakup is to blame, or just a clearer sense of musical identity? Either way, the change is electric and makes for a startling introduction for anyone who arrives at Beth for the first time as Du Blonde. Do-over done good.
While rock 'n' roll energy is at the album's core, Newcastle-born Houghton is not shy when it comes to exploring genres. Guided by Bad Seed Jim Sclavunos's production, she fashions a patchwork of ballsy blues, arch art-pop and lighters-aloft balladry but her performance, by turns bolshy and unexpectedly vulnerable, provides a through-line whenever there's a sudden swing in sound. Shouty and erratic on the ADD-punk of 'Chips to Go' and come-hither clatter of 'If You're Legal'; breathy lovesick chanteuse on 'After the Show's indie-reconfig doo-wop; even stadium rock ballad commander on 'Hunter', Houghton showcases a number of facets to Du Blonde without the album ever feeling like a jukebox on shuffle. Like all the best pop and rock stars, she manages the shifts without ever losing control, keeping herself most integral to the mix.
So, it's a particularly engaging Milkshake for that very reason and merits multiple replays this summer in order to catch all the nuances and quirks, not least of all Future Islands' Sam T Herring's cameo on the barmy 'Mind is on My Mind'. Not that she needs a guest cast, of course. Despite the California vibes of 'Raw Honey', the album has a real British quality inherent in Houghton's charismatic character, lyrical bent and classic songwriting. From dead-of-the-night piano ballad 'Four in the Morning' to the middle finger wave of 'Hard to Please' ("Shut the fuck up, let me bore you / I'm not so sure that I adore you"), Houghton is unwavering in her rule over this raw, rocky and ravishing terrain. Not that she'll give us a choice, but I think we'll be hearing a lot more from this girl - but, for now, the Du Blonde record is a mighty fine (re)start.