The Midwest has to its credit a despairing ennui: It can lead young men to murder (à la
Charlie Starkweather) or to rock & roll. Chris Mills, formerly of Collinsville, Ill., may have taken the latter path, but violence always waits around the corner. "This love's gonna kill me some day," Mills sang on his first outing. He was sure of it; you didn't doubt that ripped-up voice. "The killers are waiting for me." He didn't sound paranoid. If Midwestern basements are full of the cigarette-smoke-grimed four-tracks Mills used for his first record, Nobody's Favorite
, they don't often contain such a riveting imagination, such a fateful alliance between vision and voice. On his second album, Every Night Fight for Your Life
, Mills turned to a real studio and some Replacements rock: All hell got out. His musical ambitions started to flourish, at times breaking into jags of noisy, poetic reverie: "Fear and whiskey, ignorance and doubt ... I've got a fresh young mouth burning like a furnace ...Wish I could shut it." Mills' most recent Sugar Free album, Kiss It Goodbye
, is his most melodic -- sometimes leaping beyond power pop for Flaming Lips or Phil Spector majesty -- and malevolent: Parents toss their kids guns to pass the time and lovers kiss just to steal a breath. Lines like "Ninety proof ain't proof enough to me" might be more clever than convincing, but on Mills' best songs, like the exquisite "Watch Chain," the emotional range widens enough to let wisdom in. Chris Mills' corrosive, unsentimental vision isn't easily forgotten: Miss him at your own risk.