MusicReview

Soda Blonde: Dream Big - Dubliners return with a bolder, more forthright, more experimental affair

The quartet’s second album shakes off the shackles of their past guise, Little Green Cars

Dream Big by Soda Blonde
Dream Big
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Artist: Soda Blonde
Genre: Pop
Label: Overbite Records

Their second album may have an inspiring title, but, really, Soda Blonde have always had a certain gutsiness: as members of Little Green Cars, they were, after all, poised to conquer the world until they imploded after two exceptional albums.

If Soda Blonde’s excellent debut, Small Talk, from 2021, took a gentle swerve away from their past in a quietly determined bid to move forward, the Dublin quartet’s second album shakes off the shackles of their former guise once and for all. Dream Big, described by the four-piece as the “most fun, cathartic and meaningful experience we’ve had making an album”, certainly has a sense of musical abandon. If Little Green Cars were once referred to as Fleetwood Mac jnr, this is Soda Blonde’s Tusk, an altogether bolder, more forthright and more experimental affair.

That’s not to say there aren’t some enduring trademarks on this pop-oriented record. A lingering self-doubt permeates many tracks, with album opener Midnight Show seeing frontwoman Faye O’Rourke trill: “I just wanted to sing / But I’m not good enough, am I?” On the sumptuous, dreamy 1970s chug of Going Out, she sings: “I know that I’ve been entitled my whole life / That’s why I’m going out, hoping that I’ll run into someone like you.”

Although O’Rourke and Adam Regan, the band’s guitarist, have both recently married their partners, songs such as Boys are laced with romantic ambiguity, in lines like, “Somebody’s been yelling in my head that you’re the wrong one” – although Less Than Nothing celebrates love in the face of flaws and insecurities.

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It’s equally difficult to pin the band down to a musical style. Many of these songs embrace synth-pop and snappy beats; the punchy Bad Machine sounds like Blondie meets Goldfrapp, while the stuttering Space Baby recalls the 1990s pop of acts such as Neneh Cherry. The two-step twitch of Boys is unexpected, as is the title track, which begins with the disembodied flutter of harp before descending into an ambitious, grimy epic. The soft 1980s synth-pop of Why Die for Danzig? is at odds with its combative lyrics – perhaps the closest Soda Blonde have come to a protest song, as they adopt a French anti-war slogan from the second World War to illustrate the numbing effect of modern (or perhaps emotional?) warfare and the treatment of refugees.

Most bands would struggle to pull so many disparate elements and styles together, but it helps that O’Rourke’s voice, pliable and multifaceted, provides ballast for each song before it runs away with itself. It’s a very good album by a very fine band whose dreams, you imagine, will only continue to get bigger and bolder.

Lauren Murphy

Lauren Murphy

Lauren Murphy is a freelance journalist and broadcaster. She writes about music and the arts for The Irish Times