By Brad Lopez
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Lyrically, Melody of Certain Damaged Lemons runs the gamut of emotional expression, from manic and frightful ("I felt unsure and catastrophic.../Someone new would be so cruel/Incurable paranoiac/Hysterical depression," Makino sings on "In Particular") to childlike and gleeful ("Sometimes I spin around for days/Skip and chase and say forget about tomorrow," Amedeo exclaims on "Melody of Certain Three"). The words -- most of which are penned by Makino -- often convey a strong sense of emotional uncertainty; there's a suggestion that the lyricist feels almost incapable of dealing with her feelings. "Hated Because of Great Qualities" finds Makino strumming gently as she sings, "You were sorry I was alone/So sorry you ran away/...It never meant a thing/These are different matters/These are uncertain feelings/These should never be discussed/So keep it to yourself."
Asked if she uses her lyric writing as a platform for voicing her emotional woes, Makino responds with whispered embarrassment, like a young girl. "Oh, yes. That is right. The lyrics come from and cause all kinds of symptoms," she says. "These symptoms are from the stuff I discover and see. It's just a reflection of what we're going through. But this album only covers a pretty small area of emotion, and it's just a reflection of what I am going through right now."
Although the members of Blonde Redhead reside in New York City, they went to Bear Creek Studio in Washington State to record Damaged Lemons with Fugazi guitarist Guy Picciotto. The band credits the albums' dense textures and undertow sounds -- despite its seemingly limited instrumentation of two guitars and drums -- to a shared vision between the trio and Picciotto.
"I guess when you're making a record, you're half there, and half of you is somewhere else," says Amedeo. "You just do things that you are ready for at that moment. It's like making a painting. You look at it from the outside and it makes sense. But when you're making it, things are a bit out of control, and you don't want to think about it because it makes you self-conscious. That's why Guy is so amazing. He understood what we were trying to do. And the moments when we needed things to be clarified, he did that for us. We lost perspective when we were writing this music, but being our producer, he was innocent and was able to help us see what we wanted to accomplish."
Picciotto also controlled the dials for Blonde Redhead's most recent release, the five-song Mélodie Citronique, which pays tribute to the band's European heritage by offering foreign-language readings of the Damaged Lemons material. Somehow, the translations render many of the songs more emotionally devastating than they are when sung in English. During "En Particulier," Makino rolls her consonants while singing "Sans confiance et catastrophique/J'ai du me dire c'est just de la musique," making the phrase sound like a French scat. Though Mélodie Citronique is considered a tribute release to the band's love of French opera, the Paces' Italy is well represented, as well. "Odiata per le Sue Virtú" -- sung in Italian by Makino (who was undoubtedly coached by the Pace twins) -- is simply chilling in the Old World tongue. "Chi É e Non É" is "especially dedicated to the Italian people," according to Amedeo. "That song is dedicated to Italy because they give me so much that America does not have, like being sensitive to certain things like life, family, food and religion."
Blonde Redhead's tendency to experiment with both indie and punk-rock methods of expression -- the way that language can alter the emotional tenor of a song, for example -- has led some to classify its music as "art rock," a term that sometimes implies a certain aimlessness or pretension. Makino is quick to dismiss that idea.
"I don't like that term 'art rock.' It means nothing to me," she says. "Any great music can be art, of course. But no arty music is that interesting. I don't know what possesses people to create great music, and great music can become art. But the people who try to create art in music, they seem to have lost it."