While not exactly a phoenix-like rise from the ashes, the slow-burning scuzziness of The Kills new record will not leave garage rock toting millennials totally cold.
Modern rock music is a pretty stagnant pool sometimes. In a genre full of clichés, derivative riffs, and leather-clad posturing, there can be a thin line between creating something powerful and definitive or something contrived and forgettable. Longevity is an even trickier business without falling into tired formulas or turning into an obscene caricature, and it is a rare act that can transcend next big thing-ism and carve out a place in the collective musical conscience.
Riding on a new millennium wave of garage rock hysteria, The Kills always had enough attitude and inventiveness to elevate themselves above the rabble, and over four albums and more than a decade of playing together proved they had staying power to boot. It’s been a while since the duos last album ‘Blood Pressures’ dropped in 2011, though, and in the meantime a hand slammed in a car door almost left guitarist Jamie Hince unable to play his instrument.
While recovering from surgeries, he counterbalanced the lack of dexterity in his digits by experimenting with synthesisers and samplers. A dancehall rhythm underscores ‘Days of Why and How’, while techy basslines and rubbery percussions run through ‘Let it Drop’, and a spliced Psycho-esque violin screech is a sinister introduction to ‘Siberian Nights’.
Apart from these technological additions, though, the duo could almost have been frozen since their last album as far as their sound goes. Hard hitting riffs and heavy four-on-the-floor beats are the order of the day on ‘Bitter Fruit’ and ‘Impossible Tracks’, while Hince’s jittery sliced guitar effect crops up in ‘Hard Habit to Break’ on a characteristic fragment of erratic riffing.
Alison Mosshart’s vocals are also typically loaded with attitude and a sharp sense of rhythm. This style doesn’t always lend itself to hooks though, with most of the lyrics revolving around a single piece of wordplay while tending to roll on and peter out just when they should explode. “I’m Loyal, I’ve got the heart of a dog” Mosshart croons at one point, while elsewhere snarling “I cut your branches at the root, they only ever gave me bitter fruit”. A heavy reliance on sassy intonations of “oh oh oh” in tune with the clunky guitar riffs seems to be the only defence against the lack of a chorus in many places, especially in lead single ‘Doing It to Death’.
The band’s more delicate moments are more expansive here than on ‘Blood Pressures’, though. The piano-driven ‘That Love’ and stripped back gospel style of ‘Hum for Your Buzz’ are two of the album’s highlights and, while not exactly a phoenix-like rise from the ashes, the slow-burning scuzziness of the rest of the record will not leave garage rock toting millennials totally cold.
This Kills article was written by Tadgh Shiels, a GIGsoup contributor