Frontier Psychiatrist

The Kills’ Pulse is Strong – A Review of Blood Pressures

Posted on: April 5, 2011

The Kills - Blood Pressures

The British/American duo The Kills (Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince) have gone almost four years without a new album (2007’s Midnight Boom) while Mosshart has been moonlighting with The Dead Weather.  Their fourth album, Blood Pressures, proves to be worth the wait – it should be a treat for their fans and appeal to many who are discovering them for the first time (particularly those who like the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, the Black Keys and either the White Stripes or Dead Weather).   Blood Pressures is well-titled as a collection of songs tied together by seething restraint that hold steady rhythms in spite of palpable urges to run away with abandon. If we want to push it a bit, the title has a double meaning expanded to include the influences that we exert against those closest to us, our interpersonal “blood pressures.”

“The Future Starts Slow” opens the album with simple drums, adds a guitar fanfare and makes the album’s angst obvious upfront: “You can holler, you can wail, You can swing, you can flail, You can fuck like a broken sail, But I’ll never give you up, If I ever give you up my heart will surely fail.”  Amid this desperate longing and willingness to endure, the guitar fanfare shifts – it is less heroic and becomes a laboring, multi-syllable sigh.  The future – and the album – starting slow is not the beginning of a happy story.

The Kills – “Future Starts Slow”

The album’s momentum builds to one of the standout tracks, “Heart is a Beating Drum,” where Mosshart channels Shirley Bassey (performing “Goldfinger”) in a throwback gogo 60s anthem (the same era is evoked in Lennon-esque “Wild Charms” and the opening nod to “Gimme Shelter” in “Baby Says”).  As the Kills do throughout the album, they take simple, silly lyrics (in this case “The heart is a beating drum, The heart is a beating drum, It takes more than you wanted before, To keep it on”) and pair them with music and vocals that make the song greater than the sum of the parts.  Indeed, “Heart is a Beating Drum” presents a precarious emotional balance between the spark of hatred and flames of desire: “Send your love in a rampage, Give her everything you’ve got, And when you come to hate her, Show her more than just a spark.”

The Kills – “Heart is a Beating Drum”

“Satellite”, the first single from the album (released on February 9) is not a Dave Matthews cover.  It is The Kills’ take on the slow, syncopated worksong (compare with The Decemberists’ “Rox in the Box”).  Frankly, the lyrics of this fuzzy dreamscape song are lost on me, but Hince’s guitar towards the end of the track is a highlight that helps make this song at once abstract and directly track-laying concrete.  The second track made available for downloading, “DNA” is a more traditional cut for The Kills, pulling rhythm from guitar and drums and relying on staccato repetition “Love, love, love til you got enough, Dance, dance, dance, til there’s no one left to hound you.”

The Kills – “DNA”

Three quarters through the album, we are treated to a different, yet not entirely out of place Weimar-era dance hall lament, “The Last Goodbye” with Mosshart singing “I can’t get by on an odds and ends love that don’t match up . . . I won’t forget I swear, I’ve no regrets for the past is behind me, tomorrow reminds me just where.”   The production captures the scratchy mono recordings of the era and shows a sad sweet side to the otherwise confident ass-kicker.  This is perhaps a moment where the rage and fury is stripped away and we are left with a vulnerable, disappointed girl in love.  The subsequent “You Don’t Own the Road”, however, is asserted by a woman who wants to be in control (“You don’t own the big city lights, That make my eyes cry”), but just can’t quite break free.  Even here, our heroine concludes repeating, “Yeah, steal it back for me love, Oh yeah, steal it back for me love, back for me love.”

The Kills – “Last Goodbye”

The album closes with the blues-iest track of the collection, “Pots And Pans” which features acoustic guitar mimicking sitar riffs and lyric images: “I can’t find enough pots and pans/Let alone knives in may kitchen/To keep you cooking.”  “Pots and Pans” transitions to a more forceful (and electric) concluding fanfare as Mosshart, distorted and ethereal repeats and fades out, “These are the days we’ll never forget/When the dawn dawns on you.”  It could be that after all the fuss, everyone settles down and manages to have pots, pans and kitchens (and we are left wondering what will happen when the simmer boils over).

The Kills – “Pots And Pans”

Above all, what makes Blood Pressures a success is its combination of variety and simplicity.  Like The Kills’ previous albums, the songs on Blood Pressures aren’t exactly easy to sing along with, but they effortlessly convey emotion and draw the listener in.

PJ Bezanson practices law in New York (by day and by night) but catches as many concerts as he can. He has reviewed many shows for FP, including Phoenix, Of Montreal and Janelle Monae, and Prince.


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