One of the (many) great things about The Kills has always been their understanding of rock’s basics. Sniffy detractors say it’s easy to stick to the basics if you haven’t managed to grasp anything more advanced, but that’s both grossly unfair and plain wrong. It’s dead easy to add frills and furbelows to fluff up an impoverished sound, but it takes guts and a controlled cool to keep things to a consistent minimum.
The keep-it-lean philosophy has served The Kills well, from their audaciously bare 2003 debut. The raw vitality of their blues-steeped alt.rock easily refuted accusations of retroism, and if the odd tune ever sounded slight, it was soon weighted by one of Jamie Hince’s dark, scuzzy grooves or Alison Mosshart’s guttural growls. For a few years there, they had London’s garage-rock zeitgeist on a personalised leash.
The question is, with the gusts of modernity now blowing in so many different directions, how relevant and/or engaging are The Kills? Are they still hip, or is their fourth LP the sound of a band harping on? Well, we’re pleased to report that the pair aren’t doing a Primals, ie beating their own sonic tropes to death with a shtick, but neither have they forced a reinvention. So, ‘Damned If She Do’ features their usual clipped grind and ‘You Don’t Own the Road’ familiar lascivious distortion, but, overall, it’s far more complex and adventurous. Take the Bowie/Stones-like pop flutter of ‘Baby Says’, the drive of ‘Heart Is A Beating Drum’ or the bittersweet, carny-like twinkle that is the brief ‘Wild Charms’. Most striking, maybe, is the elegantly forlorn, strings-aided ‘Last Goodbye’, where Mosshart sounds like Chrissie Hynde. Their Toe Rag Studios days may be behind them, but The Kills’ roots are intact. They’ve simply grown a handsome new hybrid.