Kids in the Kitchen surprise on this album.
From the name alone, Kids in the Kitchen sound like a kitschy ’80s band. And that’s before you see the glorious cover of their debut album (a self-titled release in the UK and US but originally released in Australia as Shine). Vibrant primary color get-ups (that bandana, though!), big hair and lasers—what could be more stereotypical? But Kids in the Kitchen surprise on this album. Sure, it’s based in snappy synthpop, but a handful of tracks throw a wrench in the typical formula, which may explain why they charted with hits in their homeland.
A big success for the band, opening track “Bitter Desire” makes no attempt to hide its Duran Duran influences, with its funky bass intro, gated drums and horn section. It’s both moody and fun, harnessing the emotions of its subject’s desires and funneling then through pop sensibilities. Following up “Bitter Desire” with the romantic “Current Stand” inevitably makes listeners expect melancholy pop throughout. The latter is seemingly your typical ballad, complete with hushed violins, a shuffling beat and uplifting lyrics from frontman Scott Carne. But then comes some totally undistorted acoustic guitar picking, throwing into question the whole synth ballad aesthetic with a bit of shocking analog instrumentation.
“Something That You Said” begins with ominous strings before erupting into a hyperkinetic synth line. Carne’s vocals, in contrast, sound flat and bog down the stuttering, horn-filled track. It’s a disconnect that occurs more than once on this album, where the band’s tendency toward ballads overtakes the vocal aspects of an otherwise wild dance track. At least that track prepares you for the slo-mo “My Life,” where Carne personifies the angsty teen over severely gated drums and a tinny xylophone. “Not the Way” is the savior of the end of Side A, livening things up with jangly guitars, percussion that recalls unruly maracas and xylophones and explosive horns.
Side B begins with “Change in Mood,” the band’s first ever single and another slower ballad. But what starts out as Carne crooning over a twinkling guitar transforms into a double-time jittering synth, pummeling dance beat and enlivened vocals from Carne. From its romantic beginnings, the song is almost comically sped up by its end. “Shine,” the album’s original namesake, truly channels the rest of the album, distilling it into this ’80s apocalyptic Big Brother imagery (made even better in the music video). Over a funky guitar and wailing synth solo, Carne sings about “A fear of what’s been said/ …The fear I can’t ignore.” In the video, the quartet sneak around grimy, dim streets, and one of them even shoots down a helicopter. I don’t know about you, but that’s the dystopian future I envision.
Since the group disbanded after only two records and Carne is the most notable one to have continued with his solo music career, he’s seen as an Aussie ’80s icon of sorts, even though his career did leak into the ’90s with the pop-R&B mash-up “All I Want to Do.” The iconic reverence doesn’t seem completely earned purely based on this Kids in the Kitchen debut album, but if nothing else, this band, whose name was born from practicing in a literal kitchen, proves their ability to bring that stereotypically ‘80s sound to Australia.