Sahara Hotnights, Kiss & Tell (RCA)

sahara-hotnights-kiss-and-tellOn their previous two records, Sahara Hotnights displayed great style but their songs tended to borrow hooks from each other. Nobody was complaining since the hooks were good and the band delivered them with fiery panache, but the criticism that their albums were a bit samey was valid. Well, no more. Kiss & Tell, their first record for RCA, not only ups the ante, it rewrites everything you knew about Sahara Hotnights.

If their first record was moody Euro-rock and their second a nod to 70s cock rock, Kiss & Tell could be Sahara Hotnights’ 80s power pop album. The clean guitars that trade chords and licks with one another sound straight out of the Knack’s playbook. Occasional keyboards play along with the guitar lines just in case. The “All Right! All Right!” chants have given way to harmonized gang vocals. Where once their leads fought for space with fuzzy riffs, here, every guitar is clean and totally without reverb. The licks and leads sound flat but direct — simply sticking themselves in your memory.

But the real improvement is in the songs’ shapes and the way they allow Maria Andersson to sing her guts out. Every song boasts a better melody than any they’ve written before, but we never knew she had this much subtlety in her voice. In “Stay/Stay Away,” Andersson’s voice shows a tenderness beneath her assertive demeanor. The little cracks in her voice in “The Difference Between Love and Hell” are endearing and the result of a loose and impassioned performance in what could have been a cold break-up song.

Really, any song demonstrates the great performances not only of Andersson but of the band as well. It’s an album packed full of carefully-crafted, guitar-driven pop songs. Imagine if the Go-Go’s didn’t sing about bullshit and had ever made an album where each song was amazing. Potential singles are everywhere. The end result is one of the most addictive records in recent memory and a definite contender for all best-of lists this year.

[Review for NashvilleZine.]