Sleek, Sexy and Rockin'

Waterproof Blonde
The Morning After the Night Before (Crash Avenue)

By Kevin Gibson

OK, let's just get this out of the way right now: Yes, lead vocalist Rachel Hagan is easy on the eyes and carries a stage presence that ... well, it could turn a good boy bad. That's not her fault, so let's not discriminate.

Now here's the skinny: Louisville's Waterproof Blonde is a fun band to listen to. They've got a hard-to-shake mix of alternative rock, punk and indie pop going on that, frankly, finds a way to succeed better than it probably should. It probably drives a lot of other bands crazy how they manage to pull it off - getting gigs all over the southeast, popping up on WWE soundtracks and such. And it all sounds so effortless.

But let's get to the music; Waterproof Blonde, to these ears - and I've said this before, so bear with me - sounds like a slightly more democratic Eve's Plum. With The Morning After the Night Before, Waterproof Blonde has struck an effective balance of restraint and energy. One of the worst things an up-and-coming band can do is misjudge its own boundaries, but Hagan, bassist Jeffrey Smith, drummer Richard Vier and guitarist Adam Dennison seem to weigh each move very carefully on Morning; they pull back when they should pull back and they crank up the axes when they should crank up the axes.

Similarly, while there's nothing absolutely mind-blowing here, it all comes across as smart, soulful and real. "Feel" is refined energy with some nice images and smart references. Maybe the song is just about human emotions, but when you can toss in a line like "I've got Shakespeare in my head" as if it's an afterthought - just before kicking into a driving guitar chorus based on the repeated enticement of "Tell me how it feels" - the listener has to know he or she is being winked at as well as entertained.

The total structure of the album is equally tempered. The Blonde intersperses ballads with rockers and actually make us wait until track 6 until we get to the divine "Collide," which soars on a big pop hook that is made near-perfect by Hagan's breathtaking vocal. And the song doesn't just fall back on the hook and hope for the best; it takes the listener for an emotional ride, using familiar major chords without sounding hackneyed and comes full circle. Nicely done.

There's also an updated version of "Supermodel Craving," which has been in the band's repertoire since the early days. I won't go into it too much because I'm running out of room, but good call on the vocals. An already good song with a cool groove adds a tight double-track and precise production to lift it up a notch.

Whether you buy this disc or not is up to you; I'd say the album art is worth the money, but I received a white-label promo copy; consequently, I don't know how many photos of Hagan are included. May have to buy one of my own to find out. (Hey, did I just sell out? Oops.)