Rather naively, I once described the music of Kitchens Of Distinction as evoking “a couple having a passionate argument at some beach spot in Northern England, with gale force winds and driving rain creating a tempestuous backdrop”. Yet on four albums of genuinely anthemic indie rock, there’s still a real rush of excitement on hearing the first three albums in particular. Since then, frontman Patrick Fitzgerald has still been very active in music, delivering a series of acclaimed records under his Stephen Hero moniker. All great, passionate music in its own right, of course, but perhaps missing the “tempestuous backdrops” and “gale force winds” which guitarist Julian Swales and percussionist Dan Goodwin brought to the party. Then, in 2013, fifth album ‘Folly’ duly arrived and all was stormy again.
In some ways, ‘Folly’ represents a halfway house between Fitzgerald’s solo material and the youthful, romantic thrills of the Kitchens Of Distinction back catalogue. Many of the songs here are a refined take on the Kitchens’ sound (it has been a near twenty year gap after all). Fitzgerald’s voice has matured beautifully so when he sings ‘Oak Tree’, the reflective sadness of the lyrics are perfectly suited to the rich tenor of his voice. Meanwhile, Swales’ guitar is forever searching for new walls of sound; on this opening track alone swooping between the loud and dramatic and the pretty, fairy-dust textures. It can surely be no coincidence that these knights of dreampop call the second song ‘Extravagance’. Both this song and fan-inspired ‘Japan To Jupiter’ are typically opulent offerings. Yet the first four songs are definitely troubled and tragic, signed off by the piano-led poignancy of ‘Photographing Rain’, as Fitzgerald recounts the tale of a forbidden and ultimately doomed romance. In this company ‘Japan To Jupiter’ sounds a little out of place, like a crowd-pleasing blast from the past but after this troubled beginning, it’s perhaps necessary to have an outbreak of euphoria.
The second half returns to darker matter via the howling ‘Wolves/Crows’ and a wry, poetic account of the ageing process on ‘No Longer Elastic’: “No chance ecstatic. No hope of tantric thrall’ This squire is tepid. His lust a petty squall”. The song ends with a melody which suggests a show tune version of ‘Under The Sky, Inside The Sea’ from 1990’s ‘Strange Free World’ album. Then returning to baser concerns, ‘I Wish It Would Snow’ will be a subject matter everyone can identify with as the bad weather prevents us getting to the workplace and spending all day in bed. The title may suggest otherwise but ‘Tiny Moments, Tiny Omens’ is my favourite song from the album. Here, Swales and Fitzgerald are at their vintage best to provide the thrilling sonic rollercoaster of emotion which all bands strive for. Finally, ‘The Most Beautiful Day’ signifies Fitzgerald is contented at last and no longer the restless soul present on the remainder of the album.
So with that, Kitchens Of Distinction have come up with a belated yet brilliant fifth album. There’s the desired guitar fireworks from Swales and Fitzgerald sounds more confident than ever, spurred on by a combination of the critical success of his solo work, being reunited with his old band mates and – just maybe – the prospect of turning fifty this year.
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Interview with Patrick Fitzgerald and [sic] Magazine
Interview 2 with Patrick Fitzgerald and [sic] Magazine
Video of Kitchens Of Distinction – ‘Tiny Moments, Tiny Omens’