What’s the point of covers? Purists say they’re inherently redundant;cannon fodder for flaccid boy bands that do a disservice to theoriginal artist’s vision. Others overlook transgressions, loving thecollision of original intent and style, occasional dreck a necessaryevil. After all, who should be denied The Stranglers rippingapart Burt Bacharach‘s Walk On By, or Hendrix bludgeoningBob Dylan‘s All Along the Watchtower? Surely the world wouldn’tturn on its axis properly had Johnny Cash never tackled Hurt?Yet it also prompted an abomination from Leona Lewis.
Chromatics set heads spinning with such debate at the start of Killfor Love. Their brave/foolish choice of opening song on their secondalbum following a 5 year hiatus is the Neil Young classic HeyHey, My My (Into the Black). The central, iconic guitar motif isrecast in reverb surf, pitted against Ruth Radelet’s blood orange of avoice, iridescent synth and samples. Its midnight neon shimmer ismeasured, but still swells beyond its means. It’s sumptuous.
But why a cover first, especially after 5 years? Well, it brings thecurtain down on debate just as it’s prompted, something all greatalbums do in one way or another. The Pixies opened Doolittlewith Debaser: “You think this is all we have and that rock has had itsday? Well here you go. Now here’s Tame, Wave of Mutilation, I Bleed,Here Comes Your Man…” It’s a provocative move, leaving no doubtwhere the power is. It also debases (sorry) everything – like thePixies, Chromatics somehow operate away from an aesthetic, despiteidentifying clearly with one. It’s a powerful conundrum. When it’sallied to Kill for Love’s dizzying scope, a sequence of songs that hasthe all-too-rare bravura to hammer home a stylistic agenda over 90minutes, it combines to form a mesmeric journey. It could do for thesynth what Frank Black et al did for the guitar.
The record dives into a set of four tracks that bristle with My BloodyValentine grandeur married to post-punk grit, but executedprimarily with electronics; guitars present, but phased and treated.They’re incandescent electro pop songs most bands would give acollective left nut to do one tenth as well. More than anything, andherein lies the crux, they make you feel cool. Immutably cool. RyanGosling cool. It’s hardly a coincidence that previous LP Night Drivewas the inspiration for the Drive soundtrack. And that’s thepoint, isn’t it? That’s why bloggers blog and hacks hack on the muso’smuse – to find and capture something beyond themselves.
But, crucially, Chromatics don’t stop there. Quickly bored with doingpop so effortlessly, they become a dance band. These Streets WillNever Look The Same stretches out to the horizon, a compelling motionblur of streetlamp sodium. At eight minutes it feels far too short. Theythen do ambient with the gorgeous Broken Mirrors and deconstruct eventhat on The Eleventh Hour. Add electronica, disco, drone, new wave,even techno to the mix; everything that can be drawn from thewellspring of ideas is captured over the course of the record’s 17songs.
PJ Harvey‘s Let England Shake quite rightly topped many of2011’s end of year lists, chiefly for its lyrical bravery exploring anation’s character for good or (mostly) ill. Kill For Loveunassumingly scales similar heights, but does so instead byrelentlessly tugging at the edges of musical genre, focusing andrefocusing the idea of what a band is and should do untildesignations, really, mean nothing. But it still feels whole. Itssuccesses are no fluke, driven by a force of will that won’t considerwhys; necessity conquering fear. It may have taken five years but,despite what Saturday night TV would have you believe, there are noshortcuts to quality. If it’s there, trust yourself to explore andfind it. Don’t be bowed.
And that’s the real inspiration. Kill For Love shows thatsynth/dream/chill/call-it-what-you will pop can be as visceral asrock; the synth as driven and nuanced as the guitar, perhaps more so.Now and again, something comes along that makes things worthwhile. Thescope of Kill For Love is one that words can’t adequately capture, butthe imagination it fires can. Wilful, startling and effortless, wehave a winner.