A few critics have suggested that Du Blonde, the new moniker for musician Beth Jeans Houghton, is a stage persona. It’s a condescending assumption, and one that reveals itself to be immediately and obviously untrue as soon as Welcome Back To Milk begins: Houghton is Du Blonde, and Du Blonde is Houghton. This is music served straight from the heart, and even at its most frenetic and outlandish, it remains the work of a singularly intelligent, singularly individual artist. No doubt about it: Welcome Back To Milk isn’t only a masterpiece, it’s Houghton’s masterpiece.
Some of the songs, like brilliant album opener Black Flag, are electric guitar-led slices of alt. rock-pop wonder, while others, like the bittersweet, emotional Four In the Morning are carried simply and effectively by Houghton’s voice and a piano. But separating the album into these two styles is a reductive and pointless exercise: lush tracks like Raw Honey combine both of these worlds to stunning effect, and while a song like Hunter begins with a slap of the ivories, it transforms into a jagged glam pop masterwork by its midpoint.
Whatever instruments she may choose to use then, the sum effect is the same. Houghton mercilessly mashes up the raw with the resilient, crafting tunes that are gleefully dramatic and yet deeply human. Album closer Isn’t It Wild is the best example of this mix: over swirling, theatrical piano, Houghton sings “isn’t it wild when we come face to face with the love of our lives/and we don’t have a damn thing to say?” It’s a sardonic little lyric, but it’s not heartless or cruel. Nothing about the album is. Even when Houghton growls “shut the fuck up, let me bore you” as she does on the fabulous Hard To Please there is a warmth that pours through her vocals, the warmth that comes naturally when someone nails something. Perfection has its own charm, after all.
Chips To Go is perhaps the most melodically adventurous track, with a melody that owes as much to traditional Turkish folk as it does to Western punk. It’s another sterling track from an endlessly exciting artist. Houghton collects styles and tones by the handful, and combines them to craft her own distinct, unique sound.
Welcome Back To Milk is an album unlike many others. It is a resolutely personal, powerful work. Really, it should be the album that propels Du Blonde to international stardom, but even if it doesn’t, then that’s the world’s problem, not Houghton’s.