So, word is out. Thin White Duke and owner of “Best Secret Agent Name in Pop” Johnny Jewel had been one of music’s most treasured secrets. An enigmatic electro impresario behind not only Chromatics but the sweet Desire, the sick Glass Candy and co-founder of the Italians Do It Better label. This 88-key goldsmith had cut some of the finest diamond disco and emerald electronica around whilst steadily acquiring a devoted cult following. Honestly, it’s a surprise he stayed undercover this long. But following the success of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive—which memorably featured not only Chromatics but Desire on its soundtrack—and the fiendishly long wait for new material, it doesn’t take a clairvoyant to predict 2012 is the year this secret gets shared.
Over a suitably widescreen ninety minutes (yes, really), Kill for Love unfolds as part noir-ish Romeo & Juliet, part futurist Darkness on the Edge of Town, all shot with the meticulous detail of a Terrence Malick production. Love‘s also a game of two halves. The first blossoms with youthful optimism, dancing days and daydreams whilst the latter slips under shadow, storm clouds, desperate prayers, last exits and poisoned vials. Best tell your folks not to wait up, oh and grab your umbrella.
A hypnotic, stately cover of Neil Young’s “Into the Black” acts as a scene-setting overture to our tale. Jewel’s shown a knack for haunting covers before with “I’m on Fire” and “Running Up That Hill” and this is equally regal. The first sounds are Adam Miller’s guitar which act as echo of Chromatics’ garageland roots and reminder this is not Glass Candy. There’s plenty of guitar on Kill albeit atmospheric, spidery n’ subtle. “This is the story of Johnny Rotten” introduces Ruth Radelet, her vocals cool, sweet, yet archly aware. The real story begins though with the title track. Instantly anthemic, “Kill for Love” is borne of glitter and crystal and shines with the kind of “All-In” romance that demands “Pistols at dawn… to the death!” Ravenous, euphoric and armed with a spine-chilling, victorious guitar riff it’s hard to know whether to dance away the heartache or simply salute its Imperial Pop Majesty whilst wiping away a single tear. “In my mind I was waiting for change” exhales Radelet like Sleeping Beauty rising from golden slumbers. And we’re off…
A quartet of luxury pop delights swiftly follows. The infectious “Back from the Grave” pitches our heroine as tragic orphan pondering her misfortune, “Mother you’re gone / Father you’re gone / Lover you’re gone.” Radelet’s doe-eyed vocals light as sweet perfume, her sad lament perversely accompanied by a catchy-as-hell pop melody with whipcracking girl group “Ooh, Ooh” harmonies. “Mother! Father! Lover!” she twitches like Faye Dunaway in Chinatown. “The Page” takes every morose Eighties’ Goth wallflower by their black nail-varnished hands and takes them dancin’ by the light of a silvery moon. Swingin’ punches and swayin’ handclaps, it spikes one stilletoed heel through Madonna’s frisky “Burning Up” and another into the Cure’s pining “Love Song”. Early highlight “Lady” takes a groovaliciously sparse ‘n’ funky bassline on a black panther prowl through the heart of Saturday night. “If only I could call you my lady / Baby I could be your man.” It’s Jewel’s dark disco mojo set to “Stun”. The camera pans to the other side ‘o town with “These Streets Will Never Look the Same”. A heavy androgynous voice, John Carpenter stabbing chord menace and “Edge of Seventeen” shimmerin’ rhythm guitars. It’s the lost half of the broken heart necklace that was Chromatics’ old midnight drifter “In the City”. Almost nine minutes yet utterly captivating, it rolls like a cab ride with God’s lonely man Travis Bickle and paints its vistas slowly, piece by piece.
The instrumental “Broken Mirrors” closes the first act and signals storms ahead. Like Kill‘s other instrumentals this could’ve sat comfortably on the Drive soundtrack alongside “Tick of the Clock”. The menacing, circling pulse so familiar it’s easy to imagine Driver casing the city at night, possibly with Snake Plissken riding shotgun, brooding beneath an eyepatch.
In this unfolding narrative the brief “Candy” floats stage left like a guardian Angel heralding some ominous tragedy, “Don’t let them in your heart.” Woefully forlorn, it encapsulates much of Kill‘s sense of Gothic romanticism. “You’re touch is like a veil over my eyes,” it mourns. Our androgynous Co-star returns for “Running from the Sun”, which subsequently feels like crossing over to the otherside, literally. “Don’t be scared it’ll be alright.” Its upper-downer Sunday Church reflections pray like Aretha Franklin, eyes skyward whilst “Drinking blood from a paper cup.” After the purgatory phantoms of “Dust to Dust” we’re led into the twin sorrows of “Birds of Paradise” and “A Matter of Time”. The former nails a Giallo ‘69 horror riff onto a weeping Siren’s serenade whilst the punchier, icy latter shivers with funereal chill. “This is the way it ends tonight.” If you came expecting “Disco Duck” you’re shit outta luck.
On cue here comes the sun, “At Your Door”, a heartskipping beat, butterflies and bluebirds. A new dawn, a new day and I can see clearly now the rain has gone, “The door is still open / So give me your hand.” Kill for Love needed this rainbow. Pop salvation and some kind of happy ending. Alas, life ain’t so simple and following one sunglasses-at-night instrumental, “There’s a Light Out on the Horizon”, reality bites again on the desolate slowburn of “The River”. Inescapable fate and “A game that can’t be won.” The final credits roll accordingly with “No Escape”, an introspective instrumental to ponder the city lights from up on the hill, one last time.
Kill for Love is a heavy-hearted but eternally romantic midnight road movie for the mind that’ll haunt you long after those taillights fade. Unapologetically ambitious and true it carries the independent spirit and “Our game, our rules” maverick attitude that’s made Jewel and the gang so revered. It’s a keeper, a dark passenger for long roads ahead and a heavyweight contender for record of the year. Sure it’s crazy long and impatient travellers might bail once the “Fuck Dance, Let’s Art” sign lights up, but honestly Kill for Love is well worth doing time for.
// Notes from the Road
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