There has been a steady procession of reformations and/or long-awaited returns in the past couple of years, either bands returning for one last shot at success that perhaps eluded them in the first place, bands simply looking at making some (more) money on the back of previous success and a feeling of nostalgia, and then there are bands with perhaps less cynical reasons for reformation.
Label: Red Sleeve Music
The welcome return of kidneythieves this year has been one of the latter. When they vanished from the scene a good many years ago (the re-release of Tricksterreprocess, an album I’ve still never managed to pick up on CD was the last thing, back in 2003), it always felt to those of us who loved their music that it was left on an unfinished note…so when they returned last year, promising a new album, it was a most welcome return.
In the meantime, of course, countless other female-fronted rock-bands-with-electronics have sprouted up, some rather better than others (the more industrial-aimed I:Scintilla being one of particular note), and some having clearly paid attention to kidneythieves’ older material. So, how do they fare on a new album, back after the long hiatus?
To be completely honest, when the first track from it was revealed as the album was made available for pre-order – the anthemic Freeky People – it was as if they’d never been away. Picking up from where Zer0space left off, this is a song teeming with life, defiance and an optimistic message of celebrating your differences from the norm. Indeed, the massive sound, the processed riffs and stomping beat sound like a gigantic celebration, and frankly I was happy to hang out the bunting to celebrate the return of the band on the evidence of this one track alone.
Happily, the rest of the album takes up this mantle, this message of broad positivity, and the sound of a band happy to be back. Opener Jude (Be Somebody) appears to be an internal monologue, pushing Free Dominguez onwards and upwards, casting the past problems aside and taking hold of the now instead, while Beg brings a frank and demanding sexuality into the mix, something that is returned to later on. Beg is one of the picks of the album, actually, a spiky, rifftastic track with a gigantic chorus practically screamed by Free, laying into a lover who won’t show her affection, love or just about anything else.
Indeed, what is notable is the forcefulness of many of the songs, with a higher proportion of harder, faster, heavier songs than on previous albums, and also a little more experimentation too. Dead Girl Walking subtly introduces psuedo-drum’n’bass under the guitars and electronics, along with a gorgeous, dreamy melody, while Size of Always ups the beats, drops the dreaminess, remaining taut and composed, holding something back, until it absolutely explodes into the chorus – I have a feeling that this track will be storming live (folks, European dates, please?).
These are hardly the only highlights of the album, either – the deliciously filthy Lick U Clean has a groove and feel that reminds me of Spank from Zer0space (a good thing, that), and the impending remix of it by KMFDM could well be interesting.
I have to admit, though I’m not fully converted to the whole album. Comets + Violins leaves me a little cold – to me the imagery is impenetrable (clearly I’m missing something), and musically it doesn’t feel quite right. The other I really don’t get with is Dark Horse, a bluesy, somewhat overwrought track that feels like an homage to eighties power ballads, particularly in it’s big chorus, and all feels a bit naff. Especially when the other ballads on the album are so good – the sun-drenched, electronic wooziness of Velveteen is bloody marvellous, and the pretty, minimalist closer Tears On A Page is rather nice too.
It seems the burst of activity by the band is not over yet, either, with an eleventh track released to purchasers of the album subsequently, and more new tracks and remixes seemingly to follow. And that first additional track, Light Deceiver, is well worth picking up – an extraordinarily cryptic lyric weaving through possibly the most obviously electronic track the band have ever released. It’s not hard to see why it was released seperately to the parent album, though – it’s not obvious where it would have fitted in, and sounds strikingly different to the album, too. If this is a pointer to other new material, this could be an intriguing new direction.
In the meantime, though, I’m just grateful to have the band back. It’s a crunching return, chock full of cracking songs and crucially holds together brilliantly as an album, signalling another band who have chosen not to jettison the idea of an album as a format. It’s also a culmination of everything that kidneythieves have hinted towards before – an amalagam of rock, industrial electronics and songcraft that after many listens I am convinced is the better of both of their previous albums, even though both of those were great too. This is simply a striking step forward. As Jude (Be Somebody) notes:
Pick it up and go / Quit your bitch and moan
In other words, fuck the past, this is the present. And their present sounds pretty fucking good to me.