The Kills
Keep on Your Mean Side
Domino
2003
C+

you know the drill. This is where I rave about what a spiky release this is, and marvel at The Kills black leather cool and feisty attitude. Thank god garage rockers have brought real music back to the charts!


Actually, no, let's avoid that sort of unpleasantness.


To be fair to The Kills, they cannot be blamed for the blinkered hysteria that greeted the arrival of the New Rock Revolution in some quarters, so it's only fair to judge them on this batch of songs they've released. Let's begin.


Who are this duo, anyway? Based in London, their female vocalist Alison Mosshart used to sing with Florida punk band Discount, before quitting in 2000. She crossed the Atlantic to hook up with drummer/guitarist Jamie Hince, and formed the Kills. Influences? PJ Harvey, the Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth and Patti Smith are the most apparent - the Yeah Yeah Yeahs are their closest contemporary.


The Kills sludgy punk-blues doesn't contain many pop melodies or catchy choruses. Not to say that this is automatically a bad thing - the duo clearly aim for something more reliant on dynamics and visceral thrill. But do they succeed?


Opener 'Superstition' sets their stall out, but doesn't do it particularly well. An insistent drum pattern, lots of guitar hiss, a howling vocal from Mosshart - there arent many deviations from this formula over the course of the record, but it isn't made to sound particularly appetising on this scrappy first track. Not much improvement on the next two songs ('Cat Claw' and 'Pull a U') either - but things do get better from there.


The album takes off with 'Kissy Kissy?', a gorgeous low-slung drone. Mosshard and Hinces voices intertwine splendidly on the tracks repeated vocal hook ("it's been a long time comin'"), all over an insidious guitar riff. At last, were cookin.


There are several more moments of excellence on Keep on Your Mean Side, which set The Kills apart from the New Rock Revolution herd. "Hitched" and "Black Rooster" are positively dripping with sexual tension - the kind of grinding girl-on-boy blues jams that Royal Trux spent years trying to perfect. Alison Mossharts voice is stripped gorgeously bare on "Wait" - a deft strum-along with some nice harmonica flourishes, free of grinding guitar noise and distortion.


The best is saved for last, though, with closing track "Gypsy Death and You," a sweet, almost folk-y ballad: the deliberate under-production gives it a raw beauty - you can even hear Hinces fingers sliding along the fret-board. The Kills can deliver the Songs to complement the Racket.


It would be foolish to write them off as just another bunch of garage-rock chancers.


Reviewed by: Kilian Murphy
Reviewed on: 2003-09-04
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