April 6, 2011

Test Spins: The Kills

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On their new album Blood Pressures, Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince, otherwise known as The Kills, return after a three-year hiatus with a throbbing record that rids them of the pop rut that plagued them on their 2008 release, Midnight Boom. While the duo still employs only a drum machine, fuzzy guitars and ferocious vocals, Mosshart and Hince have taken their sound much further, eliminating the exaggerated minimalism of their earlier albums Keep On Your Mean Side and No Wow. On Blood Pressures, the guitars are harsher, the drums are heavier and Mosshart’s vocals are fiercer. The songs on Blood Pressures are more expansive, and The Kills finally sound like a full band. However, while Mosshart and Hince have taken their sound to the next level, their lyrics are subpar; many of the words are clichéd and frustratingly repetitive. Nevertheless, the sometimes lazily written lyrics are the one flaw of an album that is proof of The Kills’ ability to take their sound to unforeseen, if slightly restrained heights.

If Mosshart has taken anything away from working with Jack White in their blues-rock super-group The Dead Weather, it is that one doesn’t need to adhere to minmalism so much. Mosshart and Hince have come out of their cage of stark simplicity, letting their songs explode with intense distortion and even a gospel choir. Blood Pressures opens with the riff-heavy “Future Starts Slow,” in which Hince angrily thrashes his guitar over a pounding rhythm. The heaviest track on the album is perhaps the aggressive “Nail in My Coffin,” in which Mosshart furiously gives the middle finger to a stubborn lover. While many songs are brash and bratty, some songs have Mosshart and Hince taking a softer approach. “Wild Charms,” Hince’s first solo vocal track throughout The Kills’ discography, features Hince singing sweetly over a muffled keyboard. Likewise, Mosshart takes on the role of chanteuse in the ballad “The Last Goodbye.”

While the music itself is now more textured on certain tracks, the duo puts their lyric writing efforts on the backburner. On “Heart is a Beating Drum,” the title of which itself is painfully clichéd, Mosshart repeats the title phrase ad nauseum. Likewise, on “You Don’t Own the Road,” Mosshart scolds a clingy lover for, well, thinking he “[owns] the road” to the point of tedium. Had Mosshart and Hince put as much lyrical effort into all of the tracks as they did for the lovely “Baby Says,” Blood Pressures would have been an entirely satisfying record. Nevertheless, the production of the music makes up for their lack of lyrical proficiency. The Kills have definitely further intensified their sound, but they just haven’t quite gone as far as they could.

Original Author: Sydney Ramsden