MELODY OF CERTAIN Damaged Lemons, the new album by Italian /Japanese art-rock trio Blonde Redhead, soars to unprecedented heights of slick, sonorous charisma, with a style as unique as the origins of the band itself. Its spirit, lyrically and musically, seems to be one of appreciative, optimistic melancholia. Defiant of genre classification, Lemons contains some definite rock, some definite pop, and some candidly beautiful music that falls in between. It sports guitars so clean and smooth you can practically drink from them, rhythm so infectious it's impossible to remain perfectly still while listening, and vocalist/guitarist Kazu Makino reaches new levels of vocal prowess. It's richly un-American in that the songs are free from any shade of sarcasm, cynicism, or aggression. Instead, they've a wealth of artful, melodic sincerity, while there's still a certain noir-ish air about the whole thing.

Lyrically, the affectionate ESL poetry of Blonde Redhead is fascinating in both substance and delivery. "At first it's really from the gut," guitarist/vocalist Amedeo Pace declares. "But for this album, we thought about lyrics a little differently. We tried to be a little more concrete and clearer--not as abstract. Writing lyrics is just like learning how to write songs; it's not an easy thing to do. I've never written poetry, and if I think of myself having to write poetry without music, I don't think I could."

The distance between self and lyrics is even slimmer for Makino. "I don't think [the lyrics are] personal in a way that's very self-indulgent," she remarks, "but I don't think it could ever be an objective point of view, either. We hope we do it in a detached enough way."

On Melodie Citronique, the band's recent EP, we find "Chi É E Non É," a marvelous tune written and performed in its original Italian by Amedeo Pace, and featuring an acoustic guitar that, at certain turns, smacks of some sort of Italian indie-folk rock. There's an impressive cover of Serge Gainsbourg's "Slogan," and finally, Third Eye Foundation's remix of "Four Damaged Lemons." TEF manages to take a song of startling beauty and add an entirely new dimension of symphonic elegance by way of strings, clever rearrangement, and that big, deep, resounding bell sample from Fake Can Be Just As Good's "Ego Maniac Kid."

BR have really come into their own on these new releases, experimenting with different instruments and tunings, while still maintaining their distinctive European sensitivity to rhythm and the pop aesthetic. "You kind of don't know what anything's going to sound like until you start recording," Amedeo observes, "and then you're really surprised by it. We had the songs and were actually pretty prepared. There are so many details to think about in the studio that things end up changing, but we had a clear idea of the structure of the song and the melodies. I don't think we could work under pressure like that and come up with songs."

The Citronique EP opens with two Lemons songs translated into French and Italian, though monolingual listeners need not feel left out of the international Blonde Redhead experience. Makino explains, "I feel alienated by all languages, because none of them, not even English, is my first language. For me, it makes no difference. If I had a Russian friend, I would try to sing in Russian. I don't think we should feel alienated by it. A different language, even if you don't understand, is a different sound, and a different sound can create different kind of emotion. It's very interesting I think."

This past summer found Blonde Redhead in the most unlikely of places: opening for the Red Hot Chili Peppers. Makino was enthusiastic about the arena lifestyle. "I don't miss dirty clubs and cold dressing rooms; I'm ready to move on. But sometimes I'll end up having really good shows in incredibly impossible places. I don't know how that works. I hear we're playing a really, really nice theater in Portland, and I look forward to it."