The Blackmail Seduction – The Blackmail Seduction II – Album Review
Man times flies. I’m literally three & a half years older than the last time I ended up reviewing the music of The Blackmail Seduction on their debut self-titled record in early 2015. Highly memorable tunes – I still jam that record quite a bit actually; I ain’t gonna lie, a reviewer’s work is never done and there’s always something new that has to be checked out, BUT…in those few spare minutes I’ve had throughout the years, quite often, The Blackmail Seduction will still find their way onto a playlist or two. Even at the ol’ SBS Podcast, I ended up playing them when I first arrived here on the other side of Canada. Why? Cause they ROCK, that’s why. Not just great people, but extremely talented & dedicated musicians as well. I have absolutely no doubt whatsoever that they likely started writing the moment the last record was wrapping up if not just before & have been tinkering with the lineup of tunes on The Blackmail Seduction II ever since, keeping these in the incubator until they were more than healthy enough to be released. I’m not gonna call’em straight-up perfectionists…but we’re talking pretty, pretty, pretty damn close if my memory serves me correctly. The standards are high for both the band and for their listeners as well; they’ve done the right things and put the work into this follow-up album, pissing all over the age-old adage that you’ve got a lifetime to create your first record and two weeks to make your second. And that’s the way you do it in this day & age dear readers, dear friends…you take the time, you get the results…your art deserves it & I can’t think of too many bands out there that get that like these guys do.
The overall assessment here…I’d say they’ve got themselves a completely worthy follow-up to the first record with The Blackmail Seduction II. I mean…even with my ears closed I could have guessed that the quality would be there in production, performance, and writing…just so happens I prefer to have them open to listen is all; as the ultra-smooth bass from Mike Mennell started out “Dead Girl,” this one dude alone pretty much confirmed exactly why I choose that to be the case. Big drums from Blair Sinta come in quick to join Mike, adding in a subtle & controlled majesty to the sound as lead singer Jess McClellan begins to weave melodic magic into this tune on the mic. Best way I can put it, is that The Blackmail Seduction really start this out with a shimmering & captivating beginning…I would have been more than happy already if “Dead Girl” remained in that first couple gears it flexes and that was it. As it turned out, there was even more in-store for us on this initial cut as they expand the sound in even more melodic directions around the 1:30 mark and blow the rest of the doors open before the two-minute mark with added layers of guitars from McClellan and Troy Hardy taking the energy to the next-level. I’ve always felt like Jess has a kickass inclination for melodies that really hit the mark; it was definitely a skill on display all throughout that first record and as he shifted into the bold switch so perfectly just past the ninety-second mark of “Dead Girl” it brought a smile to my face. The man is in fine form, no doubt about it – he knows how to make a melody sincere, had exceptional tone in his vocals, and genuinely gives everything he’s got to the microphone just as much as the band does collectively to the music. Can’t ask for much more out of these guys, that’s the attitude you want to bring to the studio & stage; no doubt that The Blackmail Seduction sounds like they’re just as glad to be back as we are to have’em.
Like a slightly smoother or more chilled-version of Queens Of The Stone Age, the chops on display throughout the lead-single “Tell The World” are so ridiculously cool that this cut will speed up the winter season coming at us. QOTSA comparisons are definitely justifiable here…the overall results in sound are completely The Blackmail Seduction, but the methods of the madness & mayhem in the music and recording of it are born right from the same glorious playbook. Like these are the kind of songs you want to strap headphones to your head with duct tape in an effort to not let any of this sweet, sweet, ROCK escape your ear-holes. After having absorbed this whole record several times over, I can wholeheartedly conclude that The Blackmail Seduction got this completely right – there’s zero doubt about this being the lead-single, good call boys, good call. You got instrumentation coming at you left & right – not just well-played, but truly entertaining stuff happening for the entire two-minute duration of this barnstormer. You got hooks on the mic, you got just as many if not more of’em in the music of “Tell The World” – the guitars on this cut alone deserve an award for kicking not just some, but ALL of the ass. This is seriously enticing to the ears and the energy never drops; it’s got all the skills a musician would ever want to put right into the spotlight for all to check out & perhaps the best part about the fact that they’re so willing to do that leads to WHY it becomes so entirely accessible & vibrantly engaging to hear. “Tell The World” is that turn-uppable energy your speakers crave – check it out for yourself, I ain’t lyin.’
Alright…so…”High.” There’s some stuff I like, some stuff I wasn’t as over the moon about as I have been throughout the first two cuts by comparison. To me, this particular cut has more in common with the last record than it does to what we’ve heard so far on this new one, but that being said, of course that still implies that it does indeed, still sound identifiable and just like The Blackmail Seduction. Does it further their story? Does it take them into new territory at all? Maybe…maybe not; not every song needs to do that anyhow…sometimes you just want to execute on an ambition or idea you’ve had, or straight-up follow through on something you’ve started. At times, I really liked “High” in rotation, sometimes it was tougher to calm me down after the up-tempo energy of “Tell The World” experienced just prior. What people will connect to on “High” comes a lot from its classic-rock heart on display, which can’t be hidden; they might give it a modern-day flash here & there, but this tune is based in the old-school and there ain’t no shame in that game, it’s a really well constructed song at the end of the day. Probably just drifts a bit closer to the Tom Petty, John Cougar, Bruce Springsteen kinda dealio than I’m personally comfortable with, but for many people I think that’ll be the charm and appeal that draws them in. Ahhh, I’m nothing but fair ain’t I? You still get to know what I think AND I can guess (correctly) about how you’ll feel about it too. The gentle sway of “High” and its lighter Rock vibe will ease a few more people onboard with The Blackmail Seduction – it’s fair to say that there are many people out there that would love this song every bit as much as I dig the lead-single…there’s still a huge audience for this. I think Mike does an excellent job as always and some of the additions from Troy on the keys were essential to bringing the warmth to this tune, as was the vocal-melody from McClellan, of course. After several spins, I’m nearly positive what holds me back from fully getting onboard with this tune is a bit to do with the over-simplification of the chorus and a lot to do with coming after “Tell The World.” It’s a decent tune though; still top-notch execution when it comes right down to it, I’d never argue that.
Feel like I’m picking on “High.” I’m not. It’s hard to find fault in anything to do with the music of The Blackmail Seduction and I’m certainly not trying to find some massive GOTCHA moment in this lineup. Let’s face facts – it’s got the toughest spot on the record, bar none; between the amped-up energy of “Tell The World” and the ethereal atmosphere that “She’s Leaving Home” becomes right afterwards. I kind of wonder what people would think about “She’s Leaving Home” really…I know what I think of it, this is bloody captivating and a stellar performance from everyone all-around once again. Production-wise I wasn’t sure this tune didn’t slightly back a bit down from where things got up to volume-wise over the course of the first three tracks, but that might just be me. I think when you hear the widespread sound of “She’s Leaving Home” and how open those verses head into the atmosphere, it’s quite possible that the ears could fool you on the volume issue, I’m willing to accept that. As I mentioned at the very beginning, I’m at least three & a half years older than the last time I took in music from these young punks in The Blackmail Seduction – I’m practically a fossil now and just lucky I can hear anything at all. So…how would I describe this ultimately…that’s the question. I think “She’s Leaving Home” has a bit of dust or mist in the sound by comparison – but I don’t believe that it hinders the magic that The Blackmail Seduction create on this tune. There were many times where I spun through this record convinced that “She’s Leaving Home” was in fact, the crown jewel of The Blackmail Seduction II – it just might be. It’s a very adventurous but controlled epic…it’s a very naked but all-encompassing sound; it kind of has that added layer of eeriness that hangs in the air like say, “Car Crash” at the end of Our Lady Peace’s second record has at times…the lyrics designed in such a way that you’re on pins & needles trying to figure out how this story ends up, and I love that kind of tension & suspense in the combination of music & vocals whenever I can find it. Around the 1:30 mark, The Blackmail Seduction roar through the mid-section in an almost like…hmm…Muse/Radiohead like way…there really is a hugeness to it, but also an untamed wildness that completely sounds like Jess has let the vibe consume him perfectly, singing with swagger & style that sounds like a hazy Yorke melody in full bloom. Bass-man Mike – you sir, are aces all-around, every single time. When the atmosphere of this tune spreads out, the bass tones are always the first thing I hear welcoming us back into the melody & rhythm of this tune; and I thought the sound of the drums & cymbals were once again really spectacular in the choices made. I’m still convinced this cut might need a bump or two of the music up overall to wrap a bit more closely to McClellan’s vocals…but again, if this is what I’ve got, I definitely ain’t complaining. And again, I’m old.
While “Visiting Hours” probably isn’t going to win the award for sunniest sunshine of the year – this melancholy & often heartbreaking cut really hits the mark powerfully. As mellow as it might be overall, especially compared to a track like “Tell The World” – I don’t think “Visiting Hours” is any less single-worthy at all…I think this would be a strong candidate to put out there as the second or third tune to draw people in to The Blackmail Seduction II. Every single time Jess started out singing the chorus of this tune, he damn near brought a tear to my eye…it’s got a really sincere set of lyrics that are quite direct and bold in their imagery & emotion…you feel this tune. As far as guitar solos on this record go – or any of the instrumentation on this album goes for that matter…you might have to hand the one that occurs on “Visiting Hours” the top honors for most amazing moment…that solo is absolute perfection. Here’s what I know; you don’t find your way to the sincerity that Jess sings this one with without it coming from a very, very real place inside. While we might get to relate to the overall themes of “Visiting Hours” – the specific event that inspired this tune is likely one that McClellan holds close to the heart…as a result, I think you can really hear just how much of ‘him’ & his thoughts haunt this tune. It’s powerful stuff and it carries a heavy weight – there’s no doubt about that; but at the same time, you gotta acknowledge the magic in that chorus and the smooth sound that rolls through “Visiting Hours” – it’s a tender tune and might not make the immediate splash that a song like “Tell The World” will, but it will be a memorable cut off this record for many people out there and still has that hit-song potential.
Writing ‘happy’ can be one of the toughest damn things on the planet when it comes to songwriting. It’s either the thing you do 100%, all the time, and it’s ingrained into the fibre of your carefree experience as a human-being…or chances are, if your tendencies are to be a more critical thinker or examiner of our time on earth, you’ll probably struggle with creating a more lighthearted vibe as so many do. For what it’s worth, I think The Blackmail Seduction pulled it off extremely well on their debut record through the song “I’ll Be Right Here” – which kind of has a similar sweetness to its intentions like “Some Things Are Forever” has on this new album. Again, I’m not going to find fault in the execution and neither are you – The Blackmail Seduction don’t make mistakes in that respect; it’s simply a matter of personal preference when it comes to a song like this and whether or not you dig that slight Americana-twist it has on the sound. Love-songs are tough ones to examine; I have no doubt this is as sincere as the rest of McClellan’s writing, observations, musings, and feelings when it comes right down to it…but there’s something about that pairing of something as special as this lyrically with such a pepped-up sound. Like, I felt like my personal favorite parts about “Some Things Are Forever” all came towards the very beginning when the song was the most sparse and the melody of the vocals carried the bulk of the weight. As things progressed…I couldn’t help but feel like this song needed a more innocent & isolated approach…but again, that’s me. The facts speak for themselves clearly through your speakers as “Some Things Are Forever” plays on – it’s intended to be a celebration of love, and ultimately it is. Hard to hate on a song as sweet as this one is…still plenty of redemption in that chorus to want to repeat it often.
I think the biggest surprise for me on The Blackmail Seduction II actually came right at the very end. Production-wise…maybe a bit similar to the dusty feeling that “She’s Leaving Home” had on it – but ideas-wise, performance-wise, writing-wise…this might actually be my favorite cut on the record, no BS. So why surprising? Look…I’ll just put this out there…I’ve got a lot of respect for the surf-music community…it’s just rare that I really LOVE something that would fit in there, ya feel me? So when the final cut “Aloha” started up with those surf-guitars & tones riding my airwaves, I felt that pit in my stomach…because for a second – and you’ll have to forgive me boys – but for a second, I doubted they could somehow pull this off into something I’d wanna really hear over and over. Don’t ask me how they did it…I can’t claim to know ALL the ingredients in the recipe of this magical sauce they’re cookin’ up on “Aloha” – I just know that I am absolutely, unabashedly addicted to it. NO SHAME HAVE I, nor any do I want – I freakin’ LOVE this tune and I turned this right up as loud as my stereo could possibly take it! Jess is killin’ it on the microphone, tossing in golden tones that bring the essence of this melody straight to the surface. Backing vocals are also perfection; it’s an old-school sound somewhat…it’s like a sock-hop at peak-awesomeness, weaving in the hand-claps and Chuck Berry-ness to the beginning before heading into extraordinary Pop-inspired Rock that is SO INVITING you’ll be waiting for a Christmas card in the mail from this song. That’s how much The Blackmail Seduction are thinking of YOU on this cut…because not only is it another kickass display of melody & musicianship – but they’re really giving you all the awesomeness YOUR ears can handle on one tune that’s just slightly over two-minutes in length. McClellan’s pure perfection in singing this one, Mike is absolutely rippin’ it up on the bass back there, the surf-sounds of the guitars are actually more than welcome to my ears the way this band plays this card, and the drums pound with relentless energy. What more could ya want? That frantic sound & energy in McClellan’s voice on this cut is seriously infectious…the whole vibe of “Aloha” is brilliant fun and immediately makes you want more of this record. Certainly can’t complain about ending an album on this strong of a moment in time right?
I know I’m not. The Blackmail Seduction proves to be just as much of a competent and capable force on their second record – there’s a consistency & quality in this band that not many out there ever reach. The Blackmail Seduction II is an album fully worth the waiting and one that proves that taking the time to do it right leads to stellar results all-around; it’s excellently written, performed with massive passion & powerful melodies that reveal tunes played with real heart – and it’s definitely another solid addition to 2018. Great to have’em back!
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