Back to the '90s: Concrete Blonde and their breakthrough album, 'Bloodletting'

Los Angeles in the ’80s was the site of two very different music scenes.

The hardcore punk rock scene that included Black Flag, the Germs, X, Fear and Circle Jerks was famously documented in Penelope Spheeris’ film “The Decline of Western Civilization.” The sequel to that film focused on the glam-metal bands, like Poison, Ratt, Faster Pussycat and W.A.S.P., that populated the clubs on Sunset Strip.

Both scenes had their roots in music of the ’70s: the punks were influenced by Buzzcocks and the Ramones; the hair bands by Led Zeppelin and the New York Dolls. There was even some cross-pollination going on as Guns N’ Roses beefed up their sound with punk riffs and Jane’s Addiction incorporated Led Zep grandiosity into theirs.

Somewhere between these two worlds was where Concrete Blonde staked their claim.

Led by the multi-talented vocalist Johnette Napolitano, Concrete Blonde released two solid, if not exceptional albums in the 1980s. Their breakthrough hit came in 1990 with the ’50s-style (in form if not in content) ballad “Joey” about an alcoholic and the woman who loves him. Odds are if you’ve only heard one Concrete Blonde song, it’s “Joey.” That’s a shame — it’s nowhere near their best work. There’s plenty more to be found on their third album “Bloodletting.”

For starters, the title track is a rumbling rocker about vampires in the Crescent City, sort of Joan Jett meets Bauhaus. “The Sky Is a Poisonous Garden” is a nice slab of Tex-Mex punk, a combination the group would revisit on their follow-up album “Walking in London.”

Concrete Blonde has a softer side as well, after a fashion. “I Don’t Need a Hero” is a low-key meditation on tempestuous relationships, “Caroline” is a radio-ready counterpart to “Joey” and “Darkening of the Light” rambles along in waltz time. The album closes with its strongest track, a cover of “Tomorrow, Wendy,” originally recorded by fellow Angelino Andy Prieboy of Wall of Voodoo. If you don’t get chills listening to this stark and moving song, you may very well be a Cylon.

— Nicholas Coleman

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *