By Jim Schutze
By Rachel Watts
By Lauren Drewes Daniels
By Anna Merlan
By Lee Escobedo
By Alice Laussade
By Scott Reitz
You have to like Chris Mills' songs. You just have to. If for no other reason, you have to like them because he understands that love and hate aren't separated by much, that people make bad choices that can't be easily fixed, that life isn't a series of happy moments. He knows there are people who live lives that end with straight razors plunged into crooked veins, people who would let their kids play with guns because they "don't want to raise another one like me," people who hate where they're from and where they're going, people who "forget to remember to forget." They get involved with women they can't stand and can't get away from, pass out in bars and wake up in strange beds, say things like, "My eyes are blurry/If I had friends they'd all be worried."
Mills gives them enough reason. With the first song's ringing electric guitars and title ("Brand New Day"), Kiss It Goodbye--Mills' third and latest, following 1997's Nobody's Favorite and 1998's Every Night Fight For Your Life--softballs a false sense of hope at listeners, a notion Mills quickly scuttles. As soon as he starts singing, it's clear that it's not a fresh start the title's referring to; it's only another chance to "get burned again." But in the world Mills sings about, lying to yourself and/or ignoring the truth, convincing yourself that, contrary to all available evidence, today will be a better day, well, that's about as good as it gets. Whether the glass is half-empty or half-full is beside the point. All that matters is that it's probably time for another round.
Fact is, you could just read the lyrics and Kiss It Goodbye would be worth coming back to again and again, until every word is as permanent in your memory as your birth date and first kiss. With help from some of Chicago's finest session players, the music is just as good, incorporating everything from million-miles-away power-pop ("All You Ever Do") to tiny scuffles between Dobro and mandolin ("Lips Are Like Poison"). Like his friend Langford, Mills never stays in one place long enough for you to get comfortable, surprising at every turn. Most of the time though, the music is irrelevant: Mills' scruffy twang carries each song on its own, especially on songs such as "Borderline" and the album-closing "Signal/Noise," where it pretty much has to. Even the best backing band in the world can't provide enough cover when you're singing, "Because you're the only thing I've ever loved/But I guess sometimes that just ain't enough."
And no, Mills isn't the main character in all of these songs. If that were true, he probably wouldn't be around to sing them, either stuck in a bottle or a pine box or something like that. But there's enough of him in these songs to make every word hurt, to make every chorus sound like the story of your life. Whether or not it's the story of his life isn't important.