Androgyny sells! Tight pants, tight shirts, snazzy scarves, wristbands, shoes, and of course, lots and lots of eyeliner. Boys who imitate girls attract more girls. It's quite the phenomenon really. Witness Chicago's Kill Hannah: five guys with raccoon eyes, Japanese anime-style hair, and wiry bodies. Oh, they play music too -- epic, passionate, catchy, fashionably dark glam rock.
The band formed in 1995 and have just released their Atlantic Records debut, For Never and Ever (although it's actually their third full-length release), this past October, and it's clear that they're selling their image as much as the music. The website features hundreds of photos of the band: Kill Hannah on tour, Kill Hannah with fans, Kill Hannah as cartoons, and Kill Hannah posing in fields. And they are beautiful -- hybrids of Ziggy Stardust's glamour, the Smashing Pumpkins' gothic tendencies, and Placebo's angst. The website is elaborate, and every opportunity to show off the band's good looks is taken. This would and still can be extra special irritating; however, upon listening to For Never & Ever, one will realize that Kill Hannah have the musical talent to lend their over-the-top rock star image some credit.
The album opens with "They Can't Save Us Now", a sweeping and depressing-yet-somehow-inspiring ode to dysfunctional youth. Singer Mat Devine speaks to the desperation young people feel when they're between the proverbial "rock and a hard place". The ubiquitous "They" really just don't understand. Guitarist/keyboardist Jon Radtke alternates between careening riffs and industrial-infused static, while drummer Garret Hammond provides a strong, arena-sized backbone to the track.
On "Kennedy", the album's single, Devine sounds like Shirley Manson after three packs of chain-smoked cigarettes and three days without sleep. This is a compliment. For Never & Ever showcases Devine's gender-ambiguous vocals, and after you see the guy, this ambiguity fits even better. This song especially gels with Devine's image as he sings, "I wanna be a Kennedy / I wanna shake hands with heroes / And kiss the girls of centerfolds on the tongue / And die young". Guitar work from Radtke and Dan Wiese lend "Kennedy" an '80s-inspired, new wave feel that clearly illustrates the Smiths' influence on the band's sound. Only problem with this song? It bears a striking resemblance to the Garbage classic "I'm Only Happy When It Rains".
"Boys and Girls" also sounds very similar to a few of Garbage's more pop-influenced songs. But the next track, "From Now On", breaks away from Garbage homage (that's fun to say) and instead indulges in straight up Stabbing Westward worship (also enjoyable for your mouth).
"Unwanted" breaks up the second-half slump of For Never & Ever with Devine defiantly dedicating the song to "the boys who don't belong" and "the girls who get it wrong". He sings to those of us who "don't exist", in hopes that we'll declare both our independence from this unappreciative society and our solidarity with our disaffected peers. This is the most energetic track on the album, and pays tribute to U2's larger-than-life anthems. "Is Anyone Here Alive?" follows in a similar vein.
"No One Dreams Anyway" brings the album to a fittingly moody close with Devine moaning "What's there to wake up to?" After much lamentation the song picks up and features all the band's aforementioned assets: hugely catchy riffs, impressive drumming, androgynous vocals, and a glam/goth/pop/rock sound that might someday fill stadiums should Kill Hannah make it big. Judging by this album, they've got a fighting chance.
For Never & Ever is a job well done for Kill Hannah. Produced by Sean Beavan -- of Nine Inch Nails and Marilyn Manson fame -- the album definitely possesses an industrial edge. Three guitar players (Devine contributes, too) combined with keyboards, bass, and drums, and help from Beavan, have created a thickly layered and melodic sound. Having been involved in the music business for almost nine years now, the band have proven not only that they know how to build chemistry, but also that they understand how to produce quality art. They rely heavily on their influences -- the Smiths, Garbage, Smashing Pumpkins, U2, etc. -- but what better artists to follow? Kill Hannah has a sound and a label. The guys in the band sure as hell look like rock stars. They have my blessing.