Longtime Chicago disco scenester Frank Nardiello had dabbled in various art-punk bands when in 1987 he met kindred spirit Marston Daley, who had just moved to Chicago from Boston. Nardiello and Daley rechristened themselves Groovie Mann and Buzz McCoy, and enlisted keyboardist Thomas “Buck Ryder” Lockyear, “go-go butt” dancer Jacky Blacque and an ever-changing array of local nightcrawlers, dubbed the Bomb Gang Girlz, to create My Life With the Thrill Kill Kult. Less a band than a lurid low-brow art project, Thrill Kill Kult initially began as a movie, then evolved into an electro-disco soundtrack for an imaginary series of sex-Satan-and-gore flicks.
Emerging amid a flock of hard-edged and essentially humorless industrial bands on the Wax Trax! label, Thrill Kill Kult strove to set themselves apart with tabloid-magazine outrageousness. But I See Good Spirits and I See Bad Spirits isn’t nearly bombastic enough; the dreary mix of electronic atmospherics, vaguely ominous chants, disco beats and B-movie samples aspires to sleaziness but never breaks (out in) a sweat.
The seven-song Kooler Than Jesus collects the contents of two early 12-inches and adds two numbers. The title track, originally a 1989 single, is a dance groove sturdy enough to warrant a remix on Confessions of a Knife. A sendup of all things gothic, Knife is bathed in fake blood and thriller-chiller mockery. “Christian zombie vampire” goes the nursery rhyme chant in “The Days of Swine and Roses.” The tales of the occult, mental illness and murder are framed by metal guitars, warbling world-music vocalists and rubbery basslines, which serve to make the Kult’s high-concept kitsch listenable enough.
Vampires are replaced by dominatrixes on Sexplosion!, a campy romp that evokes myriad James Bond ripoffs, both in lyrical content and the swagger of the John Barry-like instrumental accompaniment-particularly “The International Sin Set.” With its deliciously decadent chorus of “Uber baby!” and grinding guitar, “Sex on Wheelz” is the Kult’s peak moment on record, while “Mystery Babylon” dabbles in a Latin groove, “A Martini Built for 2” swanks it up with airport-lounge organ and “Princess of the Queens (The Lost Generation)” tinkers with rap. (Other than tinkered artwork, a deleted remix of the album’s “Dream Baby” and a different bonus edit of “Sex on Wheelz,” the record’s major-label reissue is identical to the indie original.)
Wrapped in brilliantly colored psychedelic artwork, 13 Above the Night is a denser, more elaborately produced record, with snatches of gospelized call-and-response vocals, chicken-scratch funk guitar and bass percolating in a neo-psychedelic mix. But the cheap-thrill lyrics now come dressed up in literary pretensions, with such babblings as “She speaks of life’s Eternal scrolls/In Ancient Splendor we will roam,” from “Dimentia 66 (The Ballad of Lucy Western).”
The black-and-white Hit & Run Holiday gets the Kult back on the low road where it belongs, with tales of drag-strip lust and hotrod heartbreak. Horns pad out the disco rhythms, and “Glamour Is a Rocky Road” — with its cheesy keyboards, twangy guitar and gum-smacking female chorus — evokes the bubblegum surf-rock of the early B-52’s. The Kult also accurately critiques its limitations on “Mission: Stardust”: “Glamour is my only weapon.”