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Du Blonde: Homecoming - First Instincts Review

First Instincts is a series of reviews where I listen to an album for the first time ever, and note my initial thoughts as I listen. These are my unfiltered reactions upon hearing the project for the first time in full. No skips, no replays, just my first instincts.

In an ideal world, Du Blonde would need no introduction.

The North-East based songwriter, animator, and director (also known as Beth Jeans Houghton) should be a household name. He's one of the most talented artists around.

I'm not alone in thinking this - look at the seemingly endless list of big-name collaborators who have worked with him, including the Red Hot Chilli Peppers, Ezra Furman, and Laura Marling. His fantastic 2019 album, Lung Bread for Daddy was his best project yet, home to brilliant songs that displayed both virtuosic instrumentation and pop sensibilities, such as the stunning Angel or the haunting On The Radio. He's now back with a new record, Homecoming, featuring big-name features including Garbage's Shirley Manson, Ride's Andy Bell, and frequent collaborator and friend Ezra Furman.

Going into this album, I'm hoping for a fun rock record with the brilliant guitar work and witty lyrics that Du Blonde is known for. Early single I'm Glad That We Broke Up was a phenomenal song, reminiscent of his previous singles, but also of classic 70s pop. Will the rest of the album follow in the same vein, or will I be surprised at a new direction? I'm pressing play, excited for what will come next...

1. Pull The Plug

Straight in with a chugging grunge riff, this is nice. Ooh, the guitars on this one are NICE, especially the way the lead line is layered over the chords. Houghton's voice sounds fantastic, I love his husky register. A really nice chorus. The second verse is phenomenal, really great lyrics in this one. "I've been trawling through the gutter for the things you left behind." That guitar solo is lovely. It reminds me of vintage Manic Street Preachers in the best way. "What's your problem? If you've got 'em, you should solve 'em baby!" Brilliant opener, short and sweet.

2. Smoking Me Out

The vocal effect in the intro is a nice touch. I love how heavy and low-end the guitar sounds. Whoa that chorus is so good, really melodic, a nice contrast from the spoken-word verses. I love how Houghton plays with tension in his songs, going between really intense passages and widescreen pure pop melodies. This chorus is SO CATCHY. "I can be anything that I want". Why wasn't this a single?! This is brilliant. Immediate favourite. I wish that could have gone on longer!

3. I Can't Help You There (ft. The Farting Suffragettes)

The Farting Suffragettes is an incredible band name, just saying. I love this one already, the refrain is stupidly catchy. I can find myself singing along already and we've not even hit the chorus yet. "I'm getting out of the town, I'm getting back on the road". This one's going to go off live, between the gorgeous clean guitar lines and the abundance of hooky melodies. "I'll be a queen, I'll be a king, don't feel like talking when the whole world's caving in". This feels powerful. The shortest track yet, but also my favourite. I'm left wanting more. Totally looking The Farting Suffragettes up later, what a band name and what a tune.

4. Ducky Daffy

Whoo, this one is a stomper. So many of these songs are going to sound incredible when live shows become safe again. Houghton's such an underrated guitarist, and this album is such a great showcase for his talents. "What you wanna do? I wanna do it too". Every track so far is really catchy - it feels more pop-oriented than Lung Bread For Daddy, in the best possible way. That one was over too soon. Some of the best seventy-five seconds of music this year.

5. Medicated (ft. Shirley Manson)

I mentioned the Manics influence on the first track, and this one reminds me of them too. Those backing vocals are heavenly. Shirley Manson and Du Blonde is such a brilliant team-up. The production has been uniformly great so far, but this track feels especially powerful - the drums are hitting so hard. The chorus blossoms brilliantly - it really feels like the whole track opens up. Shirley sounds fantastic on this. I think I can safely say so far that this is Houghton's best album so far. The lyrics on this are powerful, the sort of song that's going to mean a lot to a lot of people. Hoo boy, that key change! That took me off guard in the most brilliant way. Another highlight. This album is heavy as hell.

6. I'm Glad That We Broke Up (ft. Ezra Furman)

The only single I think I heard before the album's release, and what a single it is. It sounds even better in the context of the album. "Time has a way to display the dismay" is such a great line. This is such a brilliant love-hate song. Ezra sounds so good, Twelve Nudes really was an underrated record, and this track has a similar fiery energy. I can't wait to hear what she works on next. You can really tell that the two artists are close friends, their on-record chemistry is electrifying. A certified banger. I love that acapella ending too! More!

7. All The Way (ft. Andy Bell)

A glance at the tracklist tells me this is the longest song so far, at 3:20. I've never actually consciously listened to Ride before - I should change that. A welcome change in pace from the relentless fury of the previous songs. The chorus feels very Springsteenian with a dollop of shoegaze, I dig it. "I've never been so good at caring about you... I know I let you down". This is such a sad song. Another standout track for Houghton's incredible guitar chops, that outro was something else. The bass tone on this album has been beautiful so far.

8. Undertaker

I don't think there's been a single song on this album where I haven't thought "wow, that's a great riff". The build-up in this one is great, I can't wait to see where it goes. Holy shit, that instrumental hook. I can't tell if it's guitar or synths, whatever it is, it sounds amazing. This is brilliant so far. It's another sad track, but it's such a riot to listen to. This has some of my favourite musical moments on the whole album. Everything just sounds perfect on this one. File this as evidence for Du Blonde being one of the best guitarists and composers of this generation.

9. Take One For The Team

Penultimate track, let's go! The harmonies are really beautiful on this one. The drums are hitting harder than a wrecking ball. It feels it's constantly building, never resolving but pulling you along. The slow drumbeat makes an interesting contrast from the propulsive guitar riff. HOOO THAT OUTRO! Angus Young, eat your heart out. Another short and sweet gem.

10. Take Me Away

The last track opens like a classic jazzy ballad. Houghton's voice is so perfect for this kind of song. The reverberating pizzicato guitar sounds stunning with the piano. This one feels like a continuation of the story from All The Way. The arrangement on this is heavenly, the strings in particular sound incredible. "I look at the pile of the clothes on the floor, I think about dressing and then I lay down and think more" is such a great couplet. This is one of his best ballads yet, no question about it. He's got one of my favourite voices in rock at the moment, and this song is a wonderful showcase for his vocal talents. A beautiful, elegiac guitar solo to close. We end on a wonderful highlight.

I'm breathless. What an album.

Homecoming makes for Du Blonde's greatest work yet, a powerful and punchy ten-track ripper of a record. Not a single minute is wasted. The hooks are sharper than ever before, the riffs are meaner, every guest brings their A-game, and almost every single song has been echoing in my mind since the first listen. If there's any justice, this record will win Houghton new fans, and give him the audience he deserves. I'd like any old-head who claims rock is dead to listen to this album and be proven wrong.

By stretching himself as an artist, Du Blonde has made one of the best rock albums of the year.

Highlight tracks: Medicated, I'm Glad That We Broke Up, I Can't Help You There, Smoking Me Out

Key lyric: These feelings, they hurt like a bitch and they get in my way

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