What separates Blue Rev from all the teenage-kicks albums before it is Rankin’s subconscious, hyperreal songwriting, which runs counter to the current mode of stark diaristic pop songwriting where singers follow an emotion or idea without detour. Rankin, on the other hand, is all detours and off-ramps, asides and parentheses, bushwhacking through the undignified mess of life. She only gestures at a feeling, allowing the band and her blockbuster vocal lines to take the listener the rest of the way. In her world, the worst thing is not running into your ex, but running into your ex’s sister at a pharmacy who will casually offer that he has that “new love glow” about him. Murder, She Wrote and a Belinda Carlisle song make memorable cameos. Proust had his little cookies; Rankin has Blue Rev, a nuclear-blue malt beverage that is swilled behind a skating rink on “Belinda Says” like one last dizzying teenage reverie before early-onset adulthood.
From the band’s first single, the HOF indie rock jam “Archie, Marry Me” to now, Rankin’s literary flair has never been pretentious, only wise. When she’s helpless, she’s “an assistant to the way life’s shaking out”; if she wants to leave, she will “egress”; she’s not single, she’s “riding the pine.” Near the end of the album, on “Lottery Noises,” Rankin sings one of the most crushing lines about a breakup, foregrounding good fortune in the face of total destruction: “I’ll always be looking for ways to remember the sound of the lottery noises that I can’t believe rang for me.” Like the sound of Blue Rev, the sentiment is so layered and dreamy the real pain underneath is basically invisible.
One more great Rankin line, that opens the triumphant “Easy on Your Own?”: “I dropped out/College education’s a dull knife/If you don’t believe in the lettered life/Then maybe this is our only try.” It gets at the diffuse themes of Blue Rev: escaping and returning, stasis and change, how difficult it is to tell the difference between the two. It’s not the gnarly stuff of high-school hallways, but the soft fear of matriculation. Maybe this liminal, shoegazian state resonates with you, or maybe it’s O’Hanley’s guitar solo at the end of the big rave-up “Pomeranian Spinster.” Blue Rev careens between the sublime and the extremely sick, soothing one moment and whipping you back against your seat the next. It is cool and righteous, it makes you feel cool and righteous, you hope that when other people hear it they feel cool and righteous. This is the old currency of pop music, and Blue Rev makes it feel new again.
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