Kitchens of Distinction
Nothing to hide so I sing too loud
Not like you, you keep
Obscure from me
Oh open up, speak to me
I've nothing to hide so I'll talk to you for hours
But I am closer to the poles
They're merely cold as ice, impossible to touch
Hello, hello, I've called too late
To ask you to remember me
You picked me up and drove around
With Beethoven and rose garlands
Yes I know it's long ago
And times have changed your tastes so
But it was you who talked so much
About infatuation you called love
Nothing to lose So I called out of the blue
Just to hear your silky tones
Whisper "Hello, do you know what time it is?"
I'm so sorry I forgot the vast space between us
That closed off your heart
Guess who that reminds me of.
The song is "Remember Me?" by Kitchens of Distinction. It's from their 1994 album "Cowboys and Aliens", which I haven't had for long, and in fact didn't know about until recently. I found it in an unusual way; recently, the independent record store a few blocks from my work has been inundated with "used" cassettes from early 90s alternative rock bands, most of which have been ending up in the dollar bin. I put "used" in quotes because these tapes are all still in their shrinkwrap, and carry price stickers from when they were new. I can't help but assume that some record store went out of business 10 years ago with all of these cassettes on their shelves and they've sat in some former owner's garage or attic ever since. Now, 10 years after these cassettes were new, whoever this former record store owner is has decided to clear out some storage space and sold them all to my local store. So I've found such gems as Pussy Galore's "Historia De La Musica Rock," Buffalo Tom's "Birdbrain," the Pale Saints' "Slow Buildings," and the crown jewel of the entire haul, a Kitchens of Distinction album I didn't even know existed.
They're pretty much forgotten now, and fell through the cracks when they were still around, at least domestically. This was the early 90s, when there were several subgenres a British rock band could slot into for maximum American marketability. However, Kitchens of Distinction were too loud for the more mannered 4AD sound, too openly emotional to fit in with the Creation records "shoegaze" movement, and had too clean a sound to get in with more American-sounding bands like Teenage Fanclub. Perhaps worst of all for them in marketing terms was their open homosexuality. It never bothered me, and in fact seemed intriguing, but I can't imagine it didn't have somewhat of an effect on their careers, especially in America. Some people obviously still cared, as they put out four albums and had some moderately successful singles in Britain, but they were always more of a critical favorite than anything.
Back to the song. I found "Cowboys and Aliens" on my most recent troll through the dollar bin at my local store. I only had $6 to last me for the rest of the week, but I couldn't imagine leaving the store without it. As a huge Kitchens of Distinction fan, for whom cassette copies of "Strange Free World" and "The Death of Cool" are prized possessions, I couldn't believe that there was another album by them out there that I'd never even heard of (I suppose this is the ultimate comment on their lack of American success). So, of course, I bought it. That was maybe two weeks ago, but before today I'd only listened to it maybe four times. There was a time when it would have been many more by now, but my car has a CD player in it these days, and I don't walk around listening to my Walkman nearly as much as I used to (and probably still should). So today, sitting at work typing up a purchase order, was the first time I really noticed the lyrics to "Remember Me?" That bit in the second verse where the singer is describing a transatlantic phone call jumped out at me and suddenly, with my boss at the next terminal, I was fighting back tears.
This is nothing new with Kitchens of Distinction though. They've always had songs that floored me with their emotional content. The first song I ever heard by them, "4 Men", was played as a video on MTV's "120 Minutes" back when I was still in high school. The second line of the song jumped right out at me with gay content: "Never thought that he would ever want this much from a man, but love is the steepest sharpest slide." But even though I couldn't relate but so much to that one line, the rest of the song was like a piece of my soul. Halfway through, when singer/bassist Patrick Fitzgerald sang, "Fear rules me easily. It takes lust and strength to turn to you and say, 'I want you and I need you,' but I haven't got the fattest chance in hell," gay or not, I understood completely. The music packed a wallop too; while Fitzgerald's baritone croon and note-heavy basslines carried the melodic structure of the song, guitarist Julian Swales cranked out some intense noise. Being British, he of course didn't engage in the wall of distortion techniques of someone like J Mascis; instead he used heavy gain and EQ effects to get a loud yet fundamentally clean sound. Then he'd go nuts. His soloing was never very interested in neat progressions between notes on a scale--he was more likely to be bending strings and pulling loud howls from his amp. In the video for "4 Men," which I'm aware is not real but nonetheless made quite an impression on my 16-year old mind, Julian breaks two strings during his final solo.
It's this contrast between Fitzgerald's melodies and Swales's frenzied noise that probably did the most to keep Kitchens of Distinction from ever finding an obvious place in the scene of their time. Of course, it's probably also a great deal of why I love them so much. They combine the erudite melodic sense of The Smiths with the noisier guitars of The Boo Radleys and the soul-baring emotional honesty of The Wedding Present, yet are so obviously doing something completely different from all of those bands that I can't necessarily predict whether or not fans of any band I could compare them to would even like them. Be that as it may, they are one band who have stood the test of time for me, whose records I listen to as often now as I did when I first bought them.
And so many of their songs destroy me. In addition to the ones I've mentioned already, there's "Breathing Fear", from "The Death of Cool," which tells the story of a young man getting gaybashed while on his way to meet his lover. The next day at work, he has to try and explain away his bruises to coworkers who don't know, wouldn't understand. By the end of the song, Fitzgerald is addressing his listeners: "Giving us grief for centuries now. Can you never rest? Beaten insulted skewered and branded. Isn't waking enough? You're breathing this fear maybe once a year. We suffocate every day." As someone with my own deviant sexual history, it's easy to relate to, even though I never dealt with any consequences like this. I imagine it might be a less than comfortable song to listen to for those with their own unvoiced prejudices, but for me it's hard to get through this song without getting upset.
Then there's "On Tooting Broadway Station," which I only recently found out is an allusion to Eliabeth Smart's "By Grand Central Station I Lay Down And Wept," a book I'd never heard of when I got "The Death of Cool" but I now want to read just because it's referenced in a Kitchens of Distinction song. This song is the lamentation of a freshly dumped man who swears he will burn everything he owns that reminds him of his former lover. I've been there a few times myself.
In the end, I don't know what to say to really get across how much this band means to me. I wasn't planning on writing this at all, and it's a busy Friday afternoon here at work and my train of thought keeps getting interrupted. But there's something about Kitchens of Distinction's music that cuts through all of that and gets at a deeper feeling inside of me. It touches my heart, which may be a cliche but makes it no less true. Maybe no one cares about these guys anymore but me, but I'm pretty sure I'll be putting their songs on mixtapes for people 20 years from now.