Story goes, it took only one show in Hollywood to land Kill For Thrills a record deal with MCA Records in 1988.
While it was rightly stressed that the deal was merit-based, they had plenty more going for them besides. Guns N’ Roses
had just exploded and major labels were grabbing anything and everything from the sleaze scene in the hopes of duplicating their success. Much like Geffen had done for Guns N’ Roses in 1986 and they themselves would with Bang Tango the following year, MCA pulled the old “release an EP on a supposedly independent label to manufacture credibility” trick, releasing the acclaimed Commercial Suicide EP
on their World Of Hurt imprint in 1988.
Guitarist and frontman Gilby Clarke had been a member of cult power-pop outfit Candy
(whose sole vinyl-only release Whatever Happened To Fun"
is much sought after today), while two members had family members already in the business: bassist Todd Muscat’s younger brother Brent played bass with Faster Pussycat
, while lead guitarist Jason Nesmith was the son of a Monkee. Drummer David Scott, one of the more adventurous sticksmen of the glam era, completed the line-up for Kill For Thrills sole full-length release.
Stylistically, Kill For Thrills were kind of oddly-placed in the metal scene of the time. Whereas the early wave of Hollywood glam bands were firmly based in classic pop, ‘70s stadium rock and Van Halen
-inspired pop-rock, the sleaze bands that emerged in the latter part of the decade owed more to the first wave of glam rock, as well as Aerosmith
and Hanoi Rocks
, more boogie-oriented rock bands.
Kill For Thrills lay somewhere in between: they weren’t as aggressive as Skid Row, they weren’t as danceable as L.A. Guns
, and they weren’t as aggressive or danceable as Guns N’ Roses. Whereas those bands would bury their pop influences somewhat, Gilby Clarke wore them on his sleeve, and his songs bear the heavy imprint of the Beatles and the Cars. The resulting sound is less conventional than many bands of the time, without sounding particularly original, and clever production (or lack thereof) gives the album a lo-fi, demo-like feel that puts Clarke’s considerable songwriting skill to the test.
Ohio-born Gilby sings with a slightly nasal So-Cal drawl that recalls nobody in particular, and his rather limited vocal range is supplemented by higher gang vocals, which feature regularly through each song. Far from limiting the band, the use of multiple vocalists expands the group’s sound considerably and are in fact one of the group’s most distinguished features, as the choruses to ‘Wedding Flowers’ and ‘Brother’s Eyes’ demonstrate. Elsewhere, group vocals are used as counterpoint to the main melody, as in ‘Something For The Suffering,’ and to evoke an Exile On Main Street
, gospel-like feel, as in ‘Ghosts & Monsters.’
Guitar-wise, Hanoi Rocks pairing Andy McCoy and Nasty Suicide are a noticeable influence on Clarke and Nesmith: the main riff of ‘Brother’s Eyes’ is an interpolation of the chorus from Hanoi Rocks’ ‘Cutting Corners,’ in contrast to the verse of the same song, a picked acoustic melody reminiscent of Boston’s ‘More Than A Feeling.’ While Nesmith has a few “guitar god” moments over the course of Dynamite In Nightmareland
’s forty-eight minutes, his playing is generally as restrained and melodic as Clarke’s songs are disciplined and calculated. Gilby’s an excellent rhythm guitarist in his own right (one would have to be to fill Izzy Stradlin’s massive shoes), leaving Jason free to feed off the main riff with complimentary leads, a role he fulfils particularly well on ‘My Addiction,’ ‘Brother’s Eyes’ and ‘Paisley Killers.’
‘Motorcycle Cowboys’ is the sole survivor of the pre-Guns N’ Roses days in Gilby’s live set list, and understandably so; it’s the quintessential sleaze rock song, celebrating Gilby’s love of motorcycles (Harleys, naturally) to the tune of blazing guitars and a crashing rhythm section, indulging in some over-the-top imagery to boot: ”I’m a lonely gunfighter on a horse named Harley Davidson.”
Unlike Jon Bon Jovi, Gilby was actually cool enough to pull off a song about motorbikes, even the most clichéd tale of “Billy Redrum,” who rides off into the sunset, only to crash die in mysterious circumstances, leaving only his name as a clue to his true fate.
‘Commercial Suicide’ and ‘Paisley Killers’ are similarly clever and vague in terms of what’s explicitly stated. ‘Commercial Suicide’ decries a generation without a figurehead, superficially a political statement but implicitly a commentary on the already decayed metal scene, with the sneering chorus line, ”When the great ones fall and the rapture’s here, who’s our generation’s lord"”
Later on, he’s more to-the-point, singing, ”I got a million ways to make a million dollars, but some things come from the heart: it’s all for one, but one destroys us all.”
‘Paisley Killers’ also leaves plenty to discover between the lines. Call it wishful thinking on my part, but lyricist Gilby appears to offer a bitter indictment of the hippy movement, stating, ”the bombs didn’t drop, whose fighting saved us"”
, and offering up the delicious pun: ”You wanna rewrite the Beatles, can’t you just let it be"”
‘Wedding Flowers’ tackles the tricky issue of marriage for convenience (”sex security”
), while ‘Something For The Suffering,’ the heaviest ‘metal’ track, is a personal account of time wasted vying for the affection of a drug addict.
Returning to the all-important topic of legitimacy and integrity, CD bonus track ‘Silver Bullets’ was each band member’s chance to let loose, with frenetic drumming and Al di Meola-like guitar passages winding around a series of rhetorical questions, the like of ”What’s a reputation if you still got to fight"”
and ”What’s a declaration if there’s nothing to say"”
‘Rockets’ and ‘My Addiction,’ ironically, provide the closest thing to respite on this otherwise emotionally-charged album, the latter containing the tagline ”Love, love, love is my addiction!”
Kill For Thrills disbanded shortly after Dynamite From Nightmareland
was released. Like so many bands of the era, they were both beneficiaries and victims of the “throw everything at the wall and see what sticks” mentality the major labels had in relation to the LA scene. Their lack of success may be related to their clean-cut reputation, Gilby Clarke remains to this day one of the most well-liked men in rock; their music, too, must have seemed somewhat subdued in comparison to the raucous rock n’ roll promulgated by the likes of Skid Row and Guns N’ Roses.
However, despite a few lyrical mishaps and occasional lapses into repetition towards the end of the disc, Dynamite In Nightmareland
is an unusually well-rounded album, very consistent in terms of quality, with a definite beginning, middle and end. It’s a shame the band didn’t stick around for a second outing, however Gilby Clarke was for half a decade Slash’s foil in both Guns N’ Roses and Slash’s Snakepit before launching a solo career, Todd Muscat joined Junkyard for their second full-length and has been a member ever since, while Jason Nesmith is a respected solo artist.