Chromatics : Kill for Love

"For never was a story of more woe than this of Radelet and her Romeo!" A Shakespearian tragedy with Synths!


Kill for Love

Label: Italians Do It Better
US Release Date: 2012-03-27
UK Release Date: 2102-03-27
Artist Website

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.


In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

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