The Kills have always been underdogs. Even after 15 years together, four albums and a heap of acclaim, Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart’s biggest UK headline show remains a gig they played at Brixton Academy in 2011. Not even guitarist Hince becoming a regular in gossip columns during his five-year marriage to supermodel Kate Moss could shunt them into the bright lights.
On ‘Ash & Ice’ none of that looks set to change, even though their fifth album comes after high drama for the band. Hince recently shut his hand in a car door, leaving him needing a tendon transplant and having to relearn how to play guitar. To make up for his diminished skills he brought in synths and samplers, making the electronics the duo have always flirted with much more pronounced. It’s obvious right from the start, as opener ‘Doing It To Death’ floats along on a rippling synth line that you’d expect to hear in a tropical club anthem.
Despite such flourishes, ‘Ash & Ice’ still sounds unmistakably Kills. The guitar lines are as fragmented and fractured as before, still coated in filth and sleaze. Their world has expanded more now, bringing influences of blues (‘Hum For Your Buzz’), gospel (‘Impossible Tracks’ samples the drums from Mighty Voices Of Wonder’s ‘I Thank The Lord’) and dancehall (the twerking rhythms of ‘Days Of Why And How’) to the fore.
For singer Mosshart, her lyrics are much more open. Piano and acoustic ballad ‘That Love’ has her doomed and destroyed (“It’s over now / That love you’re in is f**ked up”); then she’s giving up on ‘Hum For Your Buzz’ (“I’m a believer, but I can’t think straight… / The hum of the buzz, can’t take it no more”) and resigned on ‘Bitter Fruit’’s twitchy rock (“I am the seed of a dead age”). She sings of a love falling apart but manages to sound stronger than ever. The Kills are finally hitting their peak, but a low-key kind of peak.