Ah, the 1990s. That unique, heady, anything-goes approach to making music that slowly morphed into the downward spiral of boy bands, autotune and twerk videos before dying the slow death of mumble rap… And one of the most interesting – and most peculiar – acts to crawl from this primordial musical ooze has to have been Chicago’s My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult.
While their early career may have classified their output as industrial, they quickly outgrew this, flirting with funk, psychedelia and disco influences overlaid on their bass-heavy electronica. This automatic classification of any semi-electronic music with percussion front-and-center in the mix was a common mis-labelling, though: even David Bowie’s Outside (1995) and Earthling (1997) albums suffered this fate in more than one record store. Soundtrack appearances by MLWTTKK – including a live scene in 1994’s The Crow and an unforgettable joyride sequence in Ralph Bakshi’s Cool World (1992) – cemented their place in the entertainment history books, despite their controversial themes of sex, drugs and Satan.
While the term “mature” hardly suits their creative content, their latest album, In the House of Strange Affairs, could perhaps be described as “accomplished” in terms of their musical evolution up to this point. Their trademark reliance on the B-movie samples that pepper their songs is still firmly in place, as are the aforementioned sleazy themes, and the driving bass riffs that characterize so much of their back catalogue (“The Days of Swine and Roses” off 1990’s Confessions of a Knife is the perfect example of this) are still a central feature. They’re still dark, dirty and undeniably immoral (see “The Chains of Fame” and its chorus of ‘How much cash can ya make with that ass?’) but a whole lot slower, calmer and more comfortable in their approach. The buzzsaw distortion of yesteryear and faster tempos have all mellowed, even if the lyrical and sampled content hasn’t.
Yep, yet another “Year of the Klown” is creeping by…
Some real diamonds in this hour-long rough selection include album opener, “Gold To Grey” which can rest comfortably alongside the likes of Skinny Puppy’s “Cult” (off The Process, 1996) as a great example of down-tempo industrial balladeering. “Studio 21” is the grooviest slice of filthy disco this side of the 1970s, and the synth backbeat and feedback-laced guitars on “Royal Skull” makes this number the closest to a textbook ‘industrial’ number on the album. The closing three tracks – “Hanging Hearts”, “Under A Crown” and “Am I Dead” – form a slow, trance-like foray into dark, uncomfortable dimensions, but seem at odds with the upbeat electro-funkadelia of the rest of In the House of Strange Affairs. It’s a strange way to end an album – literally going out on a low note – but still suits the left-field process MLWTTKK have always followed.
In general terms, on In the House of Strange Affairs My Life with the Thrill Kill Kult have simply done exactly what they’ve always done on their past twelve albums: started with their standard ingredients and experimented with varying degrees of weirdness. They may not be as controversial or shocking as they were in the early days, or we may just be a more jaded audience, but they’re still something that the music industry desperately needs: a unique creative voice.
Nothing but “Strange Affairs” on this album. And we love it!
In the House of Strange Affairs Track Listing:
01. Gold to Grey
02. Forbidden Saints
03. Treat Street
04. The Chains of Fame
05. Strange Affairs
06. It’s Me Holly
07. Studio 21
08. Year of the Klown
09. Royal Skull
10. Hanging Hearts
11. Under A Crown
12. Am I Dead
Run Time: 61:10
Release Date: February 14, 2019
Record Label: Sleazebox Records