Blonde Redhead – Misery is a Butterfly

Blonde Redhead
Misery is a Butterfly

Forget everything you thought you knew about Blonde Redhead. The Sonic Youth comparisons are tired and haven’t been apt since before Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons, which came out four years ago. It seemed that Blonde Redhead was on its way down a completely new path when disaster struck. The band had already been on hiatus when singer/guitarist Kazu Makino was in a bizarre accident. She fell off of a horse and it trampled her face, crushing most of the bones in one side of it. This made it nearly impossible for her to sing. It took months of training and reconstructive surgery before she was able to sing again. Most bands would have given up at this point, but not Blonde Redhead. They persevered to make what is arguably the best album in their career.
During the hiatus there was a label switch from Touch and Go to 4AD, and after listening to Misery is a Butterfly, it is easy to see that this is where the band belongs. Its songs have a lush, orchestral quality not heard on any of the previous recordings. Instrumentally, the album sounds very Cocteau Twins-influenced. The vocals are up front in the mix, and Kazu’s voice sounds more beautiful than ever. Keyboards and a string section make up a good portion of the music. The guitars sound similar to End Hits- or Argument-era Fugazi when they can be heard at all. The sparseness of the guitars provides the perfect bed for the strings and vocals. There is also a very melancholy element to the songs that reminds me of The Cure’s Disintegration.
The album begins with the lyric “Angel I can see myself in your eyes.” This song is called “Elephant Woman,” and one can imagine that Kazu may have written this song about herself after the accident. It also contains the lyrics “Angel won’t you feel for me from your heart” and “lay me down on the ground, softly, softly, don’t remove my head, hurts too much.” It seems to portray a sense of personal tragedy that comes from seeing oneself disfigured after such an incident. There is a recurring theme of being broken throughout the album on other songs such as “Anticipation” which includes the line “you’re broken, like me, like me before.” The title song and “Pink Love” portray the mindset of someone whose world is crumbling beneath them. This is apparent in the lines “I won’t bind my strings to you but build my world beside you,” “with a knife I want to bleed out distress,” and “remember when we found misery, we watched her spread her wings.” The song “Equus,” which means “horse” in Latin, seems to be about dealing with the accident and moving on with life.
Not every song on Misery is a Butterfly reflects the thoughts of Kazu though; several of the songs were written by members and brothers Simone and Amadeo Pace. “Messenger,” “Doll is Mine,” and “Falling Man” have nothing to do with horses, disfigurement, or accidents. They do fit well with the other songs because they also portray a sense of longing and desolation.
Misery is a Butterfly is a truly amazing record in many aspects. It astounds me how much Blonde Redhead has progressed from its early works. The band has turned a personal tragedy into a group triumph. Every single part of this record is a juggernaut of awesome beauty. Blonde Redhead has spent four years perfecting a craft and now it has more to show for it than some bands that take even more time between albums. This is certainly a contender for best record of the year.