Bloodletting gets tagged with the “gothic rock” genre, which is a bit unfair to Concrete Blonde. Sure, it’s got a wee bit of goth about it, but it’s not all gloom and doom lyrically or musically.
In fact, Bloodletting is every bit as energetic and rock & roll as Free, or their first (self-titled) album. Bloodletting features Concrete Blonde as a three piece – Johnette Napolitano on vocals and bass, James Mankey on guitar, and Roxy Music’s Paul Thompson on drums.
The album also features guest appearances by Peter Buck, Steve Wynn, and Andy Prieboy. Side note – pretty sure Peter Buck wins the “most appearances” and maybe “most valuable player” award for my top 100, as he’s worked with R.E.M., Concrete Blonde, Robyn Hitchcock, 10,000 Maniacs, and Warren Zevon albums that have showed up in this list. Basically, the man’s a damn machine.
Interview with an alternative album
Right, so, Bloodletting. If you distilled Interview with the Vampire by Anne Rice into a song, it’d be the opening track. “Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)” sets the tone for the album, and would justifiably fall into the “goth” category but features a lot more groove than one usually associates with the label. The bass is crisp and clear on this one, and Napolitano has a lot of fun with the vocals here. The slurp is a little comic relief, showing that the band doesn’t take this vampire thing all that seriously.
They just let it rip with “The Sky is a Poisonous Garden.” There’s some damn fine guitar shredding by Mankey here, Napolitano wields the bass like a blunt instrument, with a simple but brutal bass line throughout.
“Caroline” is more mellow, but no less enjoyable. Napolitano’s husky/whiskey soaked voice is deployed to amazing effect here, whether she’s just speaking the lyrics or hitting the higher notes. She’s a versatile and effective vocalist with a damned decent range and delivery. The stutter-step guitar riffs are also fantastic.
Concrete Blonde at its best
No, they’re not covering Bonnie Tyler with “I Don’t Need a Hero.” This is an original Napolitano composition, very low-key and almost glacially paced. Even the guitar solo is quiet and contemplative.
Concrete Blonde doesn’t do quiet for long. “Days and Days” is straightforward rock, with a nice and chunky bass attack. “The Beast” is another rocker, leading off with a drum blitz and settling into a driving double-time beat and skittering guitar riffs. (And another vampire reference, for those keeping track at home.)
“Lullabye” is what you might expect from the title. Really sweet song. Love the guitar tone on this one.
The drum intro on “Joey” reminds me a bit of the “Leader of the Pack” style throbbing drums, which might be fitting given the topic of the song. This one was my intro to Concrete Blonde, via MTV. Probably on 100 Minutes, but it was in heavy rotation for a few months. Why Concrete Blonde never broke through, I’ll never understand.
Bloodletting closes with “Tomorrow, Wendy” – the only song on the album not written by Napolitano. Penned by Andy Prieboy, and later released on his own album, I feel like Napolitano owns this one almost as much as Johnny Cash owned “Hurt.”
For my money, Concrete Blonde peaked with Bloodletting. Their follow-ups, Walking in London and Mexican Moon are competent and have their high points – but also a few clunkers. Bloodletting, though, is the real deal.