Since the band’s heyday in the Washington, DC underground of the early ‘90s, Strange Boutique has gone on to enjoy a somewhat legendary status in the annals of goth/rock and post-punk. After the band’s reformation in the summer of 2019 with a tribute concert to murdered guitarist Fred “Freak” Smith, the anticipation was clearly high among fans for what more could come of such a gathering, many asking that most obvious yet loaded of questions, “would there be new music?”
With the release of the Jet Stream EP, Strange Boutique finally responds with the first new songs the group has released since 1994, and from the opening title track… oh, how refreshing it is to hear Steve Willett’s signature smooth chorus-drenched bass and Monica Richards’ magical voice together again, along with the familiar rhythms of Rand Blackwell. Richards’ subtle but stinging vocal layers are as stridently emotive as ever as she howls “Spirits of the air, bring us the Alter Hero,” with Dennis Kane’s stately and tasteful guitar textures – darkly vociferous and coolly resonant – doing well to find their space; sadly, comparisons to Smith are inevitable, and Kane’s tone is just a touch less biting than his predecessor, but it does well to honor Freak’s contributions to Strange Boutique’s sound, while also carving out a whole new niche for himself. And while on the subject, “Lightfoot Floyd” is a primarily acoustic guitar ballad in the truest sense, recounting tales of the band’s “original guitar Superman” with lines like “Screaming through London, even Geordie recognized,” “Living your life like the end of the world,” and “It was an honor to share your stage.” Surely, the song will bring tears of joyful recollection to the eyes of any who knew him and/or his music, while Kane’s ghostly and noisy tone stands as a highlight of both the song and the whole EP.
Rounding things out are two remixes of “Jet Stream” by Stephen Carey and The Hunted Hare, both of which feature some galloping electronic pulses and some further ambient flourishes to the guitars; they are decidedly modern takes on the classic Strange Boutique style, but should be resoundingly welcome on DC’s dance floors. With a cleaner production sound and Richards’ more subtle and perhaps less dramatic performance, “Blindness” offers a new recording of one of the band’s most beloved songs from The Loved One, which is a nice enough addition to Jet Stream.
As the post-punk and goth/rock resurgence is in full swing, the time was perhaps just right for Strange Boutique to return, and Jet Stream does as a comeback release should – it dignifies and pays reverence to the group’s past while signifying the desire to move forward and evolve further. As such, those like this writer who did not have the opportunity to enjoy the group’s initial impact should rejoice alongside longtime fans… Strange Boutique is back!