It’s often said that the second album is the hardest in the career of any artist, and it’s even harder when it follows a debut album that has propelled you to being one of the highlights in the current rock scene. The Blinders have definitely enjoyed such a spot since the release of their first LP, Columbia, with a successful touring season at their back including a triumphant sold-out show at Manchester’s O2 Ritz. The high-energy rock punch delivered by Columbia was always going to be hard to top, and the comparison between it and this second album in a way, inevitable. Fantasies of a Stay At Home Psychopath comes across as bearing an oddly apt title for the circumstances of its (delayed) release – we are all far too familiar with stay-at-home fantasies these days – and as one keeps listening it reveals itself to be both a clear follow-up to Columbia and a creature of a different kind, albeit with The Blinders’ unmistakable fingerprints all over it.
This is very clearly a record meant for vinyl, with a midpoint clearly marked by the aptly titled ‘Interlude,’ a track with an almost shoegazing mode and a surprising jazzy thread in its sound that is definitely not what one would expect for this band, but no less welcome because of this. One aspect of the inevitable comparison with its predecessor was always going to see whether this new album could branch out and do something entirely its own, and Fantasies of a Stay At Home Psychopath brings a whole number of different suggestions to this effect: look at ‘Black Glass‘ with its heady mix of hippy rock and psychedelia, playing around with a broader sound that would work very well on a festival stage, or ‘In This Decade,’ with a completely new take on the Blinders’ brand of vocals, more melodic and with an added softness, and even a hint of folk undercurrent.
While this second half of the record does make space for this more experimental thread, there’s plenty to be found in it that is seminal Blinders: the punchy, cutting, tough, rough in all the right places, brand of rock that audiences are used to. Tracks like ‘Rage At The Dying Of The Light‘, ‘From Nothing To Abundance,’ and latest single ‘Mule Track,’ the latter buzzing with a sharp tempo that makes the listener feel almost breathless here and there, are clearly meant for the stage, and I for one can’t wait for Covid-19 restrictions to be lifted to see them performed live, in the roaring, sweaty atmosphere that is another trademark of a Blinders gig and that they need to fully deliver. Going back to the first half of the album, the same can be said of ‘Forty Days & Forty Nights,’ which already enjoyed some live outings cementing it as a very successful live experience.
The first half of the album is more conservative, and up to the midpoint there is a risk that it might feel like an attempt at a second Columbia. Opening track ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes‘ has that Rolling-Stones-with-an-added-punch vibe the Blinders have employed to great success before, and ‘Circle Song‘ is in many ways a classic single for this band, hitting a clever mid-way between electric charge and earworm potential. It is in this first half, however, where perhaps the strongest song in the whole album is found. With the “For The Many” tour at their back, the Blinders have never made a mystery of being a political band, and this is also in its own way a political album; and it is when their very political rage is channelled in their music that they are at their best. The thrilling ‘Lunatic (With A Loaded Gun)‘ does precisely this – see it as a cutting commentary on the Trump presidency if you want, but it’s hard to shed the feeling that this gutsy, guitar-laden powerhouse of a song speaks of our times and society more at large.
While Fantasies of a Stay At Home Psychopath is more than just a repeat of its predecessor, it is also not a clear step forward from it; while the quality of it, with the biting vocals, the pounding guitars, the raging energy of the music, is without doubt very high, it’s not always possible to say that this album is truly something new. It looks back as much as it looks forward, as if having many ideas of where to go next but not being entirely ready to go there yet. It has its own kind of internal cohesion regardless of this, or perhaps because for it. In the end, the album feels both like an afterword to the band’s previous chapter, and a foreword to the next – which I, for one, will be eager to hear when they get there.
The Blinders’ new album, Fantasies of a Stay at Home Psychopath is released Friday 17th July via Modern Sky UK – Pre-order here.