No artist has perfected the art of dark, broken pop like Natalia Kills (now Teddy Sinclair of Cruel Youth.) For Kerli, in her transcendent bubblegoth-pop glory, Natalia Kills is a harmonious opposite. These two underrated ladies have always struck me as so similar, despite their vastly different sounds, themes, and styles. What darkness Natalia channels, Kerli channels light. Kills’ second and final album before abandoning her moniker and evolving into Sinclair, is a work of art, and the thirteen tracks on Trouble come together to tell an autobiographical story of pain, abandonment, love, lust, and ultimately heartache and suffering. Not to worry — Trouble is not as depressing or heavy as its subject matter. Kills’ attitude towards misfortune is very “so what?” as she picks up the pieces and moves on.
Kills’ 2011 debut release, Perfectionist, was a well polished album put through the mainstream media machine, designed for mass consumption and only hinting at what Kills truly has to offer as an artist. She is much more in control and focused on Trouble, and the album feels much like a cathartic release of pent up emotions. She’s still the same girl that longs for perfection but can never attain it, finding solace from life and heartache in her love of all things material. Trouble opens with “Television”, and right from the get go the situation is dire for Kills, as she confronts her past full of riches, violence and sorrow. It’s a testament to the fact that money cannot buy happiness, and life doesn’t change as quickly as it does on the television. After a sobering intro, “Television” kicks off to be a fun, upbeat track that has become Natalia’s signature.
“Problem” scored a single release, and the gratuitously sexual song received an equally raunchy video. No one knows of her troubled past better than Natalia herself, and she uses this to her advantage, taking control of her sexuality and demanding her lover’s affections because he’s just as much of a problem. “Problem” is an undeniable jam, and it oozes sex appeal. Even if you’ve lived a life of luxury, it’s all too easy to slip into Kills’ fantasy and become the problematic dream girl thanks to Natalia’s imaginative and alluring lyrics.
“Stop Me” gets more literal with Kills’ sexuality as she runs off with her lover, singing “fuck me in the Paris lights.” Natalia’s problems with men stem from her daddy issues, something she addresses in the first verse: “Father, father, what have you done? You’ve made a monster and now I gotta run.” Her escape culminates on “Boys Don’t Cry”, as her commitment issues get the better of her, much to the chagrin of the lovelorn boy who finds the urge to cry at his loss the next day.
Natalia samples Hall & Oates “Rich Girl” on the track “Daddy’s Girl” in an ode to her father and the lovers she’s chased after in his image. Her devotion to her father is unwavering, even though through the years it seems that this love is unrequited. As devoted to her father as she feels, she takes him to task on “Saturday Night”. The most cathartic and telling of the tracks on Trouble, “Saturday Night” paints a raw picture of a childhood full of abuse, broken promises, and dreams of a better tomorrow. Through the obstacles she faced, Natalia found the drive and determination to overcome them, and “Saturday Night” is an inspiring tale to remind you to keep your head up no matter how dark it gets before dawn.
Trouble continues to tell a cohesive and well thought out story as it transitions to “Devils Don’t Fly”. Natalia skillfully builds on the emotions expressed in “Saturday Night” to create a masterpiece about a broken heart. She faces her inner demons, wistful that her lost love is her opposite; she is troubled and lost, and the fact that he is angelic and well adjusted kills her. Her sadness is defined more so by her reflecting on the past than the loss of this man — Natalia would choose to rewrite history to make herself perfect for him than have him face the sorrows she’s endured. The emotion in her voice is real, and “Devils Don’t Fly” is a standout. “Everyone that holds my hand gets cut from all the thorns,” she laments, her heartache utterly palpable.
Kills begins to experiment with her sound on Trouble with “Outta Time”, a retro throwback that tells of another lost love. The rest of the album’s tracks on the matter are stronger, with more personal and heartfelt lyrics, but Kills’ desire to change things up is admirable. Nonetheless, “Outta Time” pales in comparison to the rest of the album; while it’s not bad by any standard, when the rest of Trouble is so strong, it comes in at a lower level.
The experimenting continues with “Controversy”, a dark power track where Natalia chants of society’s shortcomings and the brainwashing that occurs in the mainstream media. Despite its nontraditional production, dark content and cultish monotony, “Controversy” is a highlight listening to Trouble, even if you’ll not be likely to play it on its own.
Kills gears up for one last sexual charade with “Rabbit Hole”, which continues her affinity for Alice in Wonderland. (Perfectionist‘s single “Wonderland” is one of her best.) When Natalia falls, she falls hard and “Rabbit Hole” finds Natalia fantasizing about her new love, lusting after him in the dirtiest ways possible. “Rabbit Hole” is a hard and fast-paced delight, and Natalia is at her finest boozy, sexy crazy glory.
For every moment of lust she has, Kills seems to face double the amount of misery. “Out of all the stupid boys I knew, I had to fall for you. And out of all the pretty lies you told, can’t one of them be true?” Natalia ponders on “Watching You”, a track where Natalia finds herself stuck on an old lover, obsessing to the point of literally stalking him. She begins to recover from her losses, though, and “Marlboro Lights” has Natalia reminiscing on her past loves as the night wears on and coming to the realization that it’s over. “Marlboro Lights” is a stripped back and heart wrenching ballad that showcases Natalia’s true vocal and lyrical talents.
There is a finality to Trouble with its closing and titular track. “Trouble” celebrates Natalia’s past, dark as it may be, and her eyes have been opened to the fact that she cannot change history. Having released her pent up emotions on the first twelve songs, “Trouble” is a celebration of Natalia’s imperfections, despite her nature as a perfectionist. Natalia masterfully ends the story she tells on Trouble with a glimmer of hope.