We all go pop in the end, but Sahara Hotnights have decided the end isn’t soon enough. Kiss & Tell is such a big jump from their vicious breakthrough sophomore album, 2001’s Jeannie Bomb, that I’ve spent most of my time wondering if I missed their transitional album. But in those few moments when I’m not amazed at the extremity of the situation, I’m forced to admit that whether I like the evolution or not, these are enjoyable, rock-friendly morsels of pop goodness.
These songs don’t carry the energy and power of the band’s earlier work, but on the whole this is a stronger set. Especially good are “The Difference between Love and Hell” and “Keep Calling My Baby,” with the latter providing the bitch-perfect “Did I ever call you honey? Well, that name wasn’t meant for you.” Each song has at least one sing-along opportunity, and before your second or third listen you’ll be ready to take advantage.
Thankfully, the album wears its pop heart on its sleeve. With song names like “Who Do You Dance For?” “Stay/Stay Away,” and the possibly subconscious reference to Blondie with closer “Hangin’ ” — not to mention the ultimate mainstream grrrl appeal of the album’s title — the feel is no surprise. But they still start the album with a drum kick, a guitar riff and a Cars-like fake synth. And you know what? That’s okay. It works. The hand claps on “Stay/Stay Away” work. The slightly-off “Island in the Sun” chord progression on “Stupid Tricks” works. In fact, there isn’t much here that doesn’t.
But that seems to be the best thing you can say about Kiss & Tell. You don’t need to check to make sure this isn’t the new Pretenders album, or even the old Pretenders album. It has little in the way of intentional experimentation, which means the eleven songs are songs, and two or three of them really stand out. I’m left wondering what we need more: another girl pop band to replace Elastica and the disappointing Donnas or an “If we had balls, we’d put ’em to the wall” chick punk band. Drummer Josephine Forsman, who writes most of the music, has said the album is great because it allows lead singer and co-writer Maria Andersson’s voice to shine through, where before there was an ocean of distortion and crashing cymbals. Someone should tell her: Nothing shines like an ocean.