Chromatics Go Pop – Kill for Love

by Matthew Kinlin

The 90-minute pop gargantuan Kill for Love is the result of an endless editing process, with Johnny Jewel cherry-picking from a vast number of tracks and even compiling his own greatest hits from these. It sounds like a gruelling level of perfectionism that borders on neurosis. It also sounds bloody exhausting. Thankfully, those sweat-drenched hours have resulted in an album of towering scale and vision that can be rightly celebrated as one of the most ambitious records of the year.

Jewel cannot be accused of taking the easy option with Kill for Love. After the critical success of 2007’s Night Drive, the band could have easily repeated the same musical alchemy they impressively concocted on that album. Whilst listeners may have expected another noir disco release, Jewel decided to pull the band in more of a pop direction.

This new direction feels partly represented in the bold symbolism of the pink-hued guitar featured on the cover artwork. It appears to be playing with the iconography of modern popular music and suggests a desire to invest in its narrative. It also denotes a shift towards guitar-driven pop and helps to make the aims of Chromatics a little clearer.

Previously the lines between Jewel’s Italians Do It Better acts have felt quite blurred but these distinctions now feel more pronounced. Whereas an act such as Glass Candy, which use forms of disco in goofy and experimental ways, Chromatics now seem more straightforward in their approach and as Jewel references in the interview, their goals appear closer to alternative rock bands such as The Jesus and Mary Chain which play around with forms of pop.

This rock element is voiced in the opening track “Into the Black”, which declares: “rock’n’roll will never die”. Whilst Jewel recorded the song in 2009, he decided to save it as the opening track for the album. Taking on a Neil Young song requires a weighty pair of gonads. However their interpretation demonstrates the success of this new song-based approach, delivering one of the starkest, most affecting vocal performances ever to emerge from Ruth Radelet’s throat.

The first half of the album feels slightly more pop-focused, with the title track and “Back From the Grave” leaping out as giddy highlights. The former being a ginormous piece of electronic pop that launches a drug-fucked Radelet face-first through the stratosphere as she confesses: “I took a pill every night”. It rivals M83 in its pupil-dilating effects, and stands out as their most euphoric moment to date. “Back From the Grave” contrasts Radelet’s melancholic musings with Jewel’s luxurious soundscapes and perfectly distils Chromatics’ distinctive ability of being able to set up puzzling, yet intriguing paradoxes.

“The Streets Will Never Look the Same” channels the same alienation lurking on Night Drive, but rebuilds this on a much grander scale to form an eight-minute, grief-stricken centrepiece for the album. “There’s a Light Out On the Horizon” recycles their well-worn telephone motif but invests this with the narrative of a woman looking for her lover and bookends it with haunting, Carpenter-like synths, to form a moment that feels much more poignant.

Whilst the album succeeds in terms of song-based pop, it also shows a development in the band’s experimental capabilities, as the wordless, 14-minute finale “No Escape” demonstrates. Gradually building under waves of ghostly synths that rise up like impalpable voices before sinking back into silence, it feels like one of their most affecting instrumental pieces. It succeeds as a fitting end to the violently romantic world of Chromatics, evoking a sense of looking back at the glittering wreckage of a world filled with homicidal lovers, desperation and heartbreak.

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Music Article by Matthew Kinlin


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