Rock’n’roll, as a cultural movement, has taken a dormant backseat in the past 20 years. Pop now drives the car of musical dominance in America, led by Katy Perry and her legion of likeminded “musicians.” Likewise, what little is left to be found of rock music today lacks the feminine edge lent to the style by icons like Janis Joplin and Joan Jett. It is no wonder, then, that today’s top rockers have clamored to snatch up one of the only women deserving of the praise heaped on her predecessors. While Allison Mosshart may have gained recognition as the voice of Jack White’s bluesy and back to basics Dead Weather, she was first and foremost one-half of The Kills, a tried and true rock band if there ever was one. On Blood Pressures, The Kills’ newest and most sonically successful album to date, the band focuses all of its energy into simply crafting one of the lustiest and most memorable albums of the year.
It is difficult to describe the sound of The Kills to an outsider, of which there are a tragic many. On the band’s last effort, Midnight Boom, the duo blended metallic effects (the dialing of a phone, the banging of a trash can, and a drum machine to name just a few) with howling, pitch perfect vocals (courtesy of Mosshart), and the meanest guitar playing this side of the Mississippi, served up dirty style by Jamie Hince.
The Kills are the closest experience the ’90s babies can have to the CBGB’s ones of years past. Simply put, Hince and Mosshart are rock’s most reckless trailblazers, both live and on record. Only a group with some serious swagger has the pluck to turn in a record like Blood Pressures to its record label with no caveats or explanations attached. Mosshart herself inhibits the nonchalance of Karen O (of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs) and the chic but cutting voice of PJ Harvey.
Hince and Mosshart channel the Rolling Stones with fantastic effect on “Baby Says,” the closest thing to a love song on Pressures. The track shows off an uncharacteristically subdued Mosshart as she softly hums, “Baby says she’s dying to meet you / Take you off and make your blood hum” as Hince’s guitar murmurs in faint recognition of the Stones’ great “Gimme Shelter.” It is melancholic but never sappy, reigned in by the band’s effortless melodies.
Paying tribute to another rock icon, Hince channels fellow Brit John Lennon on “Wild Charms,” a short track that seamlessly leads into one of Pressures’ best songs, “D.N.A.” Mosshart treats the track with the ferocity of a beast viciously emerging from a swamp, but also brings a sense of confrontational-cool to the chorus that cleverly balances out the dynamic of the song.
Mosshart’s raw sounding vocals are simply unbeatable in terms of sheer power and pounce, showcased to best effect on “The Last Goodbye.” Almost cabaret in style, the song serves as a vehicle for the smoky-voiced songbird to show off how wonderfully her voice has matured and grown during her three year stint as White’s singer/apprentice. She imbues “Goodbye” with nostalgia and lament, emotions not found on the typical Kills’ song.
Nothing, however, quite reaches the brilliance of the throbbing number that jumpstarts Blood Pressures with a rousing snarl. On “Future Starts Slow,” both band members share singing duties while an unforgettable guitar coils and prowls in the not too distant background. The chorus serves as an unapologetic decree of almost animalistic love. It is easy to envision Mosshart dragging on her cigarette as she harmoniously yelps, “you can holler, you can wail / you can blow what’s left of my right mind / … (I don’t mind).”
The Kills join The Strokes in that pantheon of “cool” rock music, a genre that makes you wonder just how much effort the musicians actually put in, or, for that matter, how much they care. Whereas The Strokes genuinely don’t seem to care about the music they produce, Mosshart and Hince clearly labored on Blood Pressures for quite some time, and it pays off splendidly. Departing from the indie dancefloor of albums past, The Kills have injected the life into a dying breed of sound that it so desperately needed.