Top 100 Artists of the Decade: #87 Blonde Redhead
The Top 100 Artists of the Decade list will be posted over the course of 100 days. On September 23rd, we will post one artist and continue every day until December 31st, when we will unveil our #1 artist of the decade!
Please read our introduction to learn about our nominating and ordering process.
#87 Blonde Redhead
The four-year hiatus after Blonde Redhead's Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons was the result of a much-documented accident: singer Kazu Makino was bucked off a horse and trampled underneath, crushing the bones in one side of her face and disfiguring it nearly completely. It took many months of structural reconfiguration and several vocal lessons before she could even sing again. When Misery is a Butterfly came out, the incident was the trigger of much eloquent poeticizing, as many critics rightly hailed the power of a work strung up with deeply personal references to The Accident. When Makino's skull was crushed by the horse, the hoof drove through and made an imprint on her brain; while they rearranged her jaw and taught her to sing, she stitched together an oddly delicate new perception of her life. It was a reconciliation of morbidity with forgiveness, of anger with a new sort of cautious respect. It produced verses like this: "It was an accident unfortunate / Angel threw me like a rubber man aiming for the ground / Why amuse yourself in such ways? / No, don't insist - I'm already hurt / Lay me down on the ground softly, softly / Don't remove - my head hurts much too much..." The horse was in the lyrics. The horse was in the trembling orchestral instrumentation. And the horse was most certainly galloping over the thematic framework of the record, nearly splitting it apart.
It is not my intention to be morose; in justifying Blonde Redhead's spot on our top 100 artists list, I merely wish to earn the right to some poeticizing of my own. And here it is: Blonde Redhead must have been trampled by something else before the horse got to Kazu. Maybe it was politics, maybe it was love, maybe it was the day-to-day drudgery that whittles away your nerves, but each album before Misery seems just as visceral a reaction to being overrun by the forces of the world. Yes, their earlier work had a rough and messy tinge. But between Melody... and In An Expression of the Inexpressible - and back through their earlier offerings - it has always been a delicate mess, a roughness checked by insight and intelligence and a driven purpose. We all get driven down by something. Blonde Redhead is relevant because they have always responded to this force, this crushing Other, in strange and compelling ways. It took a tangible thing - a hoof to the face - for critics to take notice of the trend. But the grit and the incisive outlook has been present all along.