Chromatics Kill for Love(Italians Do It Better) Buy it from Insound
True to form, Johnny Jewel, the quietly flamboyant nostalgist who turned Chromatics from punky Portland also-rans into a theoretical mix-tape of Italian House (the clue being in their label’s name) and New Wave (more specifically, early-to-mid period New Order), has once again put out a record of quite ridiculous length. While not as preposterous as last year's Symmetry, the record that was categorically-not-his-rejected-score-for-Drive-honest-*wink* which managed to overrun its cinematic inspiration by a good half an hour, the 90 minutes of Kill for Love does seem, to put it lightly, a bit much.
That's not the only one of Jewel's bad habits to make itself immediately, obviously clear either. Being both an arch-stylist and quite breathtakingly prolific, Jewel delineates each of his various acts by mood rather than discernible musical difference and as such albums by each can seem a bit one note, and, ironically given that they're by far the most prominent, Chromatics fall firmly on the most miserable end of this spectrum - where his other acts specialise in giddy anticipation (Desire) or lusty attainment (Glass Candy), Chromatics’ stomping ground seems to be regretful resignation. The characters that haunt Kill for Love are little more than shadows, merely ciphers that merge into each other, as best demonstrated by the record's cavalier attitude to gender identity, with vocalist Ruth Radelet more often than not dragging up (or rather, down), and the occasional heavily-vocodered male interjections (is this Jewel himself, or is it still Radelet's voice just twisted out of all recognition?) often bearing more feminine qualities. These are figures who have prematurely been used up and burned out, for whom every appropriate action that could be taken already has been - At Your Door’s suggestion of potential salvation is merely a screen for further ruminating about the past, while at the heart of the comparatively lively Lady is another message of directionless ennui: Baby I just want you to come back/Give us all something to do. In the cover of Into the Black that opens the record, the melancholic breathiness with which Radelet delivers the line It’s better to burn out then to fade away suggests that she (or rather Jewel using her for a ventriloquist act) is speaking from deeply felt experience.
To stretch an observation further, there’s almost a funereal air about proceedings, the record being dominated by fading heartbeat bass-lines and ghostly girl group vocals (imagine if The Shangri-Las’ Mary Weiss had been on the back of her lover’s bike on that fateful night). It's not insignificant that the album's emotional climax (located, somewhat unfortunately, within its first fifteen minutes) comes in the form of Back from the Grave's When I look at the sky/Well I wish I was gone/Because mother you're gone/Father you're gone/Lover you're gone/And other you're gone.
In other words it’s beautiful; the perfect accompaniment to late night driving, where it doesn’t matter what the destination is as long as your girl/guy's in the passenger seat. It's a rare achievement that a record so long could be so immaculate (the only real misstep being There's a Light Out on the Horizon's answerphone core - a musical trope which really should have been left in the nineties, even if its protagonist's extreme state of unenthusiasm does lend it a sort-of mumblecore hipness). But, when it comes to discussing a work as a whole, immaculate does not automatically mean essential. The extended run time can work wonders - The Streets Will Never Look the Same's gradual morph from navel-gazing ballad into addictive electro and back again being a terrific case in point – but it can also make working through the album feel like a bit of a thankless, soporific slog.
Where the arguably fairly similar (and, it must be said, considerably more satisfying) Twin Shadow album took as its starting point the motorbike and was accordingly nippy, nimble and rather cool, in an obvious sort of way, Kill for Love is rather more like a Cadillac: sleek, classically stylish, but so oversized as to be ridiculously unwieldy when transposed from the highways that it calls home to regular suburban streets. It’s a handsome work, but it really could have done with a bit of judicious editing.24 July, 2012 - 08:31 — Mark Davison