Italians Do It Better
here’s perhaps no better title or concept for the oft-backwards looking Chromatics than a night drive. Detroit techno legend Juan Atkins’ second 12” for his Metroplex label in 1985? “Night Drive (Through Babylon).” The concept behind second wave pioneer Carl Craig’s Landcruising? A drive down I-96 W, complete with a seatbelt click and warming engine. Like Craig’s epic, the scope for the Chromatics’ drive is broad, employing a variety of techniques in the course of its hour-long running time. Cover versions, nicked solos, minutes upon minutes of vinyl crackle; it’s all here.
The night begins with a telephone call. Singer Ruth Radelet’s just stepped out of the club and calls her honey to let him know that she’ll be home soon, promising to pick up some wine on the way. But, remember: this is the West Coast. It takes forever to get anywhere. So, here we are, on a “Night Drive” with thin and fragile-voiced Radelet, matched by Adam Miller’s spindly guitar lines and Johnny Jewel’s lo-fi drum machine and yawning strings. Like much of the Chromatics’ material thus far, it’s DIY disco, poorly produced and unashamed. Radelet sounds as though she’s beamed in from another galaxy, like the many anonymous Italo divas that have come before her.
“I Want Your Love” and the trio’s cover of Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” follow it up in a similar manner, with “Hill” standing out for the obvious quality of its songwriting. But then things start to get weird. “The Killing Spree” is a four-minute Suspiria-inspired loop, while “Tomorrow Is Far Away” seems content to rely on Radelet’s intonation of the title and her humming of the track’s theme to buoy what is essentially a five minute synth loop and two extra minutes of wind blowing through your speakers. “Let’s Make This a Moment to Remember” at least pops a lumbering beat over top many of the same elements found in “Tomorrow” and keeps things relatively short, but it’s too little, too late in the face of the 18-minute conceptual failure that calls itself “Tick of the Clock” that closes the record.
Night Drive seems to be alternately an album chock-full of ideas (pairing the group’s Italo pop against the extended ambience in the record’s second half) and an album with very few (the best moments are a Kate Bush cover and as Prefix’s Jeff Klingman has pointed out, a heavily Joy Division-indebted guitar solo on “Heater”). And, anyway, while the sound palette is remarkably cohesive—which could just as easily be a money decision, instead of a shrewd aesthetic one—it still sometimes feels as though the whole thing could benefit from another contributor or two. Night drives are boring, but they don’t have to be.
Reviewed by: Nina Phillips
Reviewed on: 2007-10-04