Kitchens of Distinction – Strange Free World: Round 26 – Tom’s Selection

Over the course of Devon Record Club’s brief life thus far I have grown to love the ‘themed evening’ as it has maneuvered me to various gloomy corners of my collection that have laid dormant for many years waiting to be re-discovered. I thought the idea of a ‘Year of Release Lucky Dip’ would be interesting precisely for this reason -I don’t know why, but every non-themed night seems to see me gravitating to 1981.

The concept was this: two dips, hence a year from which a track needed to selected and a year from which an album needed to be chosen. For bonus points, try to connect the two in some way.

When I pulled out 1979 and 1990 I thought I would be fine but as I scoured various internet lists and ran my beady eye over my vinyl I felt an ever increasing sense of dread that I would have to play either (a) something so bleeding obvious it would hardly be worth bothering with (in the case of 1979 – Fear of Music, London Calling, Armed Forces, Unknown Pleasures) or (b) rubbish (in the case of 1990). Or the not rubbish In a Priest Driven Ambulence by the Flaming Lips…but we’ve already had an album by them and Rob had suggested in the last meeting that bringing an album by an artist we’ve already had would be an act so unbelievably unimaginative as to lead to instant ex-communication from the club (I might possibly be exaggerating a teensy bit here). Which is ironic given Graham’s choice for this meeting!

Anyway, nestling on the bottom shelf of my unordered collection are my Kitchens of Distinction records. Hmmm, could give Strange Free World a go, but never really clicked with it at the time. In fact I had recently played their (still magnificent) debut a couple of times with a view to bringing it to record club and had mentally filed it away as a ‘probable’. But I was intrigued to hear Strange Free World again having only played it a handful of times in the last 15 years and always sensing that I had never really wrestled with it enough…..and it hasn’t left the turntable since. What a brilliant album! What a fantastic noise married to 10 lovely, brooding tunes, dark grooves and sweet, sweet melodies. What was I thinking all those years ago when I had dismissed this as a clunky retread of Love is Hell?

Listening to both records again, I suppose the tunes on Strange Free World are harder to find than on the debut, especially on the more ominous tracks such as Hypnogogic, Polaroids and Aspray. The bass lines pound away in the gloom and Patrick Fitzgerald’s vocal delivery is almost psychotically intense. But once you’ve lived with these tracks a while, they sound wonderful, especially with the volume cranked up high so that Julian Swales’ astonishing guitar work fills the room, as it’s meant to do. These are not songs for dinner parties (back in the day KoD were possibly my favourite live act – a literally unbelievable sound for a single guitar to emit)! Elsewhere on Strange Free World there are moments of pure pop heaven (Quick as Rainbows, Gorgeous Love, He Holds Her,He Needs Her) an incredible indie anthem (if that isn’t paradoxical) in Drive That Fast and, to cap it all, the blissful, almost meditative closer, Under the Sky, Inside the Sea. You can almost see the sun setting over a millpond sea as the final blasts of trumpet disappear from the song’s coda. A wonderfully calming end to a tempestuous album that is so so much better than I ever gave it credit for. Long live the themed evening and its ability to sniff out those under appreciated gems that have been neglected for far too long!

Post Script: For my track I did play a song from London Calling. For your own bonus points can you guess which one (it’s connected to SFW)?

Nick listened: Talk Talk > Long Fin Killie > Kitchens Of Distinction: that was the line of logic that I followed (via Allmusic) about 8 years ago when I first got into KOD; I liked Talk Talk, saw reference to LFK’s Houdini being influenced by Laughing Stock, loved LFK, and then saw reference to them also being influenced by KOD. Hey presto. Whether they were or not is pretty moot (there are certainly lyrical precedents for LFK in KOD’s music); I liked them both. Strange Free World is the only one of KOD’s four albums I don’t own; I don’t know why. Of the three I do own, I like The Death Of Cool most, I think, and Strange Free World, on first listen, was similar stuff; intriguing melodies, good songs, and huge swathes of awesome, intricate, beautiful/brutal guitar noise. It was great.

However, I’ve got to take issue with Tom choosing it – the year he pulled from the hat was 1990, and Wiki has Strange Free World down as being released in March 1991! Cheat! Cheat!

Tom Responded: Well…Rate Your Music (and my LP for that matter) state it was released in 1990. So there. And besides…1990 couldn’t have been THAT shit!

Rob listened: I adored Kitchens of Distinction and was delighted when Tom whipped this out of its hiding place. For me their sweet spot lies somewhere between their debut ‘Love Is Hell’ with its stripped restraint, and ‘Strange Free World’, where they cut loose and let the electricity course through their songs like hot blood. ‘Quick As Rainbows’, the post-Love, pre-Strange single nails it, and i’d been listening to it just a few days before the meeting. It’s absolutely perfect, dramatic, direct, simple, and spine-tinglingly addictive. Patrick’s voice, Julian’s guitar, whether on vinyl or in Taunton Community Centre, where my best friend and I saw them play in 1991, were a powerful combination. Of their time, if i’m being objective, but eternally wonderful if i’m being honest.


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