**Author’s note: I started writing this piece with the intention of submitting it to BlogCritics.org as my first piece in 6 months, but something in me said to keep it personal, not to use it to earn a profit for someone else. So I’m sharing it with you. I hope you learn something or at least enjoy my thoughts.
2013 marks not one but two milestone anniversaries for Chicago’s Kill Hannah. First, it is the 10th anniversary of their major label debut, For Never and Ever, and second it is the 5th anniversary of the release of their self-released “b-sides” compilation, which many fans claim as their favorite Kill Hannah album (for some it is second to For Never and Ever), Hope for the Hopeless. In many ways, these two albums have been major stepping stones in the band’s nearly-20-year stint. Most obviously, For Never and Ever was their major label debut, their first with Atlantic Records.
For Never and Ever gave the world “Kennedy,” a song about envy and opulence, about wishing for what you don’t have, about – most superficially – what it would be like to be part of (the public perception of) America’s Royal Family, the Kennedys. “Kennedy” found its way to television soundtracks, radio stations and even a passage in Eric van Lustbader’s novel, First Daughter. Despite a poor showing on the charts, “Kennedy” remains, ten years later, one of the band’s most recognizable tracks (as of press time, it is the most played track on the band’s Spotify profile, second on Last.fm).
For Never and Ever gave Chicago the New Heart for Christmas event. What started out as a hometown stop on a concert tour (in January, no less), named for the album’s melancholy fourth track, has snowballed over a decade into a three-day festival, drawing fans from every corner of North America and from countries abroad. Think of the opening scene of Tim Burton’s Nightmare Before Christmas where the townspeople are counting down “365 days until next Halloween.” This is an exceptionally accurate representation of how band members and fans alike view the New Heart for Christmas celebration. Planning for next year begins before the weekend has even come to a close and continues throughout the year.
Hope for the Hopeless was not a label-supported endeavor. And yet, it led the band on what may well have been their largest headlining tour to date. Backed by Hot Topic and documented by Chris K. of SleepNever Productions, the Hope for the Hopeless tour became the band’s Seize the Days DVD. Widely considered a b-sides and rarities album, Hope for the Hopeless is Kill Hannah coming from a much darker and grittier place. The tracks of that album are raw and agonizing, with lyrics like “You’re tortured but it makes you beautiful” or “Tonight, we dance among the angels,” (“Paper Dolls”) and “We’re on time to say ‘goodnight,’ but we know that it’s ‘goodbye’” (“Goodnight, Goodbye”). The drums are heavy, the chords are minor, the imagery is stormy, the energy is desolate. Hope for the Hopeless is most definitely a different side of Kill Hannah, especially following the pop feel of singles like “Kennedy,” “Boys and Girls,” and “Lips Like Morphine.”
Hope for the Hopeless offers a dark beauty (“You’re tortured but it makes you beautiful” could be a tagline for the whole production) that wasn’t present in the releases before it and which morphed into something different, still dark but altogether different, with Wake Up the Sleepers the following year. Wake Up the Sleepers proved the band had grown and matured since Until There’s Nothing Left of Us but lacked the grit and agony of Hope for the Hopeless. It is possible, no matter what the band produces going forward, they will never again achieve what they did with what is merely perceived as a B-sides. Nor will they – or their fans – want to achieve that again. Hope for the Hopeless proves also that the band thrives on change and growth and challenge and to attempt to recreate the atmosphere of Hope for the Hopeless would be a step backward, even though some still see it as a pinnacle.
If you are unfamiliar with Chicago’s Kill Hannah, these two albums are a fantastic place to start acquainting yourself with them. Hope for the Hopeless is available digitally through Amazon.com or iTunes. Physical CD copies of For Never and Ever can be purchased online and in stores (where available or by special order) and it is also available digitally through Amazon or iTunes.