Kitchens of Distinction

Strange Free World

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With the help of noted producer Hugh Jones (Echo and the Bunnymen, R.E.M., among many others), the Kitchens sound more comfortable with the studio and just plain bigger. The amazing opener, "Railwayed," starts with a sweet, echoed guitar riff aiming for the heavens above a brisk rhythm exchange then kicks into a catchy chorus. Following that, the re-recording of their early single "Quick as Rainbows" turns out even better, combining a great lyric melody -- and a great lyric, reflecting on a person's inability to find love, delivered with Fitzgerald's trademark dry yet emotional voice -- with ripping music, building higher and higher as the song goes until Swales' guitar beautifully explodes over everything down to the final angry lyric. Strange Free World can't top that sublime beginning, but it often gets quite close. Fitzgerald's gay-themed lyrics seem almost more urgent and in many ways more powerful this time around, as on the forceful declaration of "Gorgeous Love" in the face of homophobia and in the sad, angry reflection on the past captured only in "Polaroids." Musically, the tunes sound quite ambitious in many ways, often steering away from conventional verse-chorus-verse formulas; "Aspray" is a fine example, ending with a repeated chant of "Beach/Burned/Nausea!" while guitars crash like waves. World ends excellently, with the band's best tune, "Drive that Fast" (a hymn to escape and self-determination that charges forward and takes no prisoners), leading into the love-drunk "Within the Daze of Passion" and the slower-paced but still big-sounding "Under the Sky, Inside the Sea," with trumpets by Kick Horns member Roddy Lorimar. Quite a fine effort.

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