Oh, negative: The Kills, Blood Pressures
It’s been three years since the sparsely angular stylings of Midnight Boom, and even longer since the garagey growl of their early work, but the transatlantic partnership of Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince has survived the former’s sojourn among The Dead Weather’s demon blues to produce what the duo describe as their most ambitious and accomplished recording to date.
The Kills have always been a band almost too cool for comfort – their website’s .tv suffix is entirely indicative – and there’s something inextricably mid-2000s about their supermodel-friendly brand of designer garage-blues. Blood Pressures sounds as cleanly confident and smoothly self-assured as ever, with Hince and Mosshart still in possession of their musical trademarks of darkly driving beats, insistent rhythms and signature girl/boy vocal blend. But if previous albums could sound underfed, Blood Pressures has gorged itself on epic textures and harmonies.
The songs here sound intense, immense and immaculate, with hardly a chink in the armour. The album’s eleven tracks include piano, mellotron and a gospel choir, in addition to the usual rockfalls of drumming and riffs like razors tearing silk. The programmed percussion, solid and precise, provides a dense and echoey backdrop against which riffs and vocals flash and strobe like neon lights in a darkened disco. ‘The Future Starts Slow’ kicks off the album with floor-shaking beats and piercing bleats of electro, before the slinky side-stepping of ‘Satellite’ showcases the REV Gospel Collective with some of the best looping, loping vocals since ‘Ghost Town’. Only the going-nowhere grind of ‘DNA’ comes close to losing the listener’s interest.
Vocally, while Hince takes the wheel on ‘Wild Charms’, it’s largely Mosshart front and centre. Her glossy-lipped commanding drawl on the anthemic ‘Nail In My Coffin’, the shimmering ‘Baby Says’, and the writhe-and-whipcrack of ‘Damned If She Do’ projects the kind of female-centered poise that’s been missing in action for a good few years now. On the ‘The Last Goodbye’, with a stalled two-note piano and slowly-building strings accompanying her turn as a chain-smoking chanteuse, she sounds a note more deeply heartfelt and hopeful than The Kills have previously seemed capable of. The fuller sound and added depth displayed here should – the laconic backwoods thud of ‘Pots & Pans’ notwithstanding – be enough to lay to rest all those tedious White Stripes comparisons, although Karen O and the Velvet Underground might still have a case.
Still slick, still sultry and still so unshakeably cool it may as well still be 2004, and for all the occasional hints of wistfulness, regret or vulnerability, the Kills sound absolutely bulletproof. This is music to believe in as strongly as it believes in itself.
Written for Wears the Trousers.