Bloodletting is the title of Concrete Blonde's third album. It was released on vinyl, casette, and compact disc by IRS Records in May 1990 and its 10 tracks clock in at 42:11. As opposed to Concrete Blonde's previous two albums, which were fairly straightforward rock and roll, Bloodletting laid the foundation for the band's entrance into the gothic rock genre, in which it was particularly successful.
Concrete Blonde's lineup has been as varied as it has been fulsome over the years, but the core members of the band that appear here all stayed on until the band's first breakup in 1994. Vocalist, bassist, cover artist and all-around High Priestess of Wicked Charm Johnette Napolitano, guitarist James Mankey, and drummer Paul Thompson make up the key players, and REM's Peter Buck and Wall of Voodoo's Andy Prieboy make guest appearances.
While Concrete Blonde is indisputably a rock and roll band, they really got into the goth thing with this album. The opening track, "Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)," is an introspective Anne Rice-inspired jaunt through the darkened, whiskey-sodden nighttime streets of New Orleans as seen through the eyes of a Ricean vampire. This song was absolutely huge in goth clubs all over the world for much of the 1990s, and though it is played less often nowadays, it's still considered a staple of gothic rock. It was one of four singles that this album spawned. One of the others was "Joey," which actually received some mainstream attention and even appeared on Casey Kasem's American Top 40 radio and television shows. Rounding out the singles were "Caroline," a heart-rending ode to a disappeared friend, and "Tomorrow, Wendy," which came in two versions; the single release and its accompanying video featured Andy Prieboy dueting with Napolitano, and the album version is all Napolitano. The lyrics, quite atypical from Prieboy's work with Wall of Voodoo, are a sprightly dirge about a woman faced with imminent death from AIDS. The video consists of juxtaposed images of Prieboy and Napolitano singing, and of someone cooking up a dose of heroin with a candle and a spoon. The video version of the song has almost gospel tinges due to the double-vocaled chorus. Unlike most CB songs, the music is fairly light, and not at all rough-edged and jagged like most of the rest of this album. The song and the video both inspire feelings of deep sadness and defiant, religious rhetoric. The first time I heard it, it made me cry, and it still haunts me, but it is undoubtedly my favourite CB song. Hey, hey, goodbye / tomorrow, Wendy is going to die...
The rest of the album represents CB in perhaps the absolute prime of their career. REM's Peter Buck appears on "Darkening of the Light," playing a mandolin, which adds a previously unheard medieval element to the band's sound. "I Don't Need a Hero," "The Beast," and "The Sky is a Poisonous Garden" are all crackers, each coming off in Napolitano's trademark brooding, angsty snarl and Mankey's slippery, jangly guitar work. "Lullaby" is, like "Wendy," a sweet and relatively light song, and its sound is relatively incomparable with any other CB song, although the lyrics are fairly standard. Perhaps on this album above all other CB releases, the pain that Napolitano poured into the entire project can be starkly felt with each word she sings, each bass note she plucks, and each careening riff from Mankey's guitar.
Bloodletting brought Concrete Blonde a level of commercial success that had previously eluded them and that they would be unable to sustain with later releases. If you've never heard anything by this band before, or have heard some Concrete Blonde songs before but didn't take an immediate interest, this album would be a good place to start your fandom with. If you've heard their other albums but weren't all that impressed, give this one a try, as it is generally regarded to be superior to all the rest of the band's output either before or after its release.
- Bloodletting (The Vampire Song)
- The Sky is a Poisonous Garden
- Darkening of the Light
- I Don't Need a Hero
- Days and Days
- The Beast
- Tomorrow, Wendy
In 2010, a remastered and expanded version of Bloodletting was released. It contains an additional six tracks:
- I Want You
- Little Wing
- Bloodletting (The Vampire Song) (French version)
- Roses Grow (live)
- The Sky is a Poisonous Garden (live)
- Tomorrow, Wendy (live)
Hey, hey, goodbye
Tomorrow, Wendy is going to die