This review has been a long time coming because I've been putting it off... it's not that Blue Hands is a bad album, especially the middle, but it doesn't actually excite enough at any point for me to recommend picking it up, especially if you already have Somewhere from its earlier release.
King of England establishes the production bias for the album, with lots of bass swagger and beat. The lyrics have a political slant — "I'm the king of England, so bring me the head of the man who took my people to war" — but don't really go anywhere with the idea. There's a nice rising bit halfway through the track, but overall my impression is still as meh as it was when the song was released as a single.
Clarinet Town is much more old-school Puppies, with the new production style. Although when I say new, it's really quite retro and funk oriented. I'd have left King of England off and opening with this track, personally. Unfortunately, it has some of the same shortcomings — a line (in this case "before the hammer... before the hammer comes down") that gets overplayed to the extent that it starts to grate. Overall not bad, though.
Somewhere also saw release as a single, and is much more to taste. Touching on the Judy Garland favourite, it detours via an odd obsession with John the Baptist's head (seriously, listen to the first album and tell me isn't a preoccupation) and is replete with powerful echoing vocals. Moody and intense, and none the worse for it.
Where The Werewolves Meet was the b-side to the Somewhere single and harks back to previous lyrical territory, moonlight and tonguing. At the time I described the bass as dirty and sensual, which hasn't really changed as an impression — but to add to that, there are times the bass line is very specifically rhythmic (eg, "our bodies burning we're screaming and we're rolling through the street".) Maybe not the sort of thing you'd put on a mixtape for someone you were just getting to know, but you could... uh, have fun... with this with someone a bit more familiar.
Orphans of the Storm features Luke's debut on lead vocals. It's a nice change of pace (not a slight in any way towards Becky's vocals) because it brings the album down to mainly strings and vocals, introducing instrumental elements gradually where needed. Ominous sounds and delicate keyboard work mix together very effectively.
How To Choose A Wife sashays along at a brisk pace, the funk bass still in evidence, with a whimsical and playful feel to the lyrics. It's my favourite track of the album. Secret Burial holds the level of interest, including some wonderfully direct lyrics and synth hiding amidst other sounds, although it does wander off into vocoder experimentation after the coda on the main song.
The Word on the Street brings us back to King of England and Clarinet Town territory, though the repetitions are much less grating than on King and bits do winningly stick in the memory. Dear Brutus , meanwhile, is an entirely pleasant but nondescript variation on some of the vocal and production techniques elsewhere on the album (and elsewhere in the band back catalogue) — a problem I think affects the record as a whole; this time around, there doesn't feel like much new or of substance subject-wise. The great thing about Puppies' songs has tended to be that they tell stories or offer very vivid imagery.
Blue Hands is more distinctive, rather Regina Spektor-esque at points, only the "standing at the river" points grating a little... but after a rather bleak album until this point, ending on a more upbeat high note would've been more welcome. Instead, tacked onto the last track is a melange of heard-at-the-end-of-a-corridor-effect Kings of England beat followed by snatches of Orphans of the Storm with female vocals... less bang and leaving you wanting extra, more fade and not really caring.
I'm rather disappointed overall, to be honest. Listening before purchase will happen with any future releases.