The Kills have always been a mixed bag. Not in a negative way, but, beyond style, a dedication to Warhol and Sedgwick’s explorations in art and artifice, a respect for Royal Trux, and the lo-fi tinged magic of extreme sexual tension, what did Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince stand for? What were they trying to say to each other, or to us? Over the course of their previous releases, 2003’s greasy Keep on Your Mean Side, 2005’s rough-hewn No Wow and 2008’s shiny and twisty Midnight Boom, the electro-blues London duo kept themselves at a safe distance, near-perpendicular to lyrical relatability, though not as bad as Interpol’s dissociative disorder, all the while establishing themselves as the ultimate in fashionably Edgy Cool. It used to be all about dead-end roads and ditches, getting below the din where the kids all screw in the basement and emotional ambiguities save for pining for Taxi Driver’s New York. But then Midnight Boom’s game-changing “Last Day of Magic” and its ultra-meta video happened, and… poof! Suddenly the Kills became a complicated emotional situation versus an outlet for gritty aural catharsis.
Blood Pressures expands upon what was hinted at with “Last Day of Magic.” It’s a slicker, more accessible companion to their early releases, brimming with songs about sex (and friendship) as biological highlighter and the pain of closure and last goodbyes; 11 songs about the ties that behind and what you can’t leave behind but probably should. This is the Kills at their most powerful, haunting and vulnerable. Hince has never sounded angrier at his MPC-60 and beat-up guitars, and Mosshart employs her dynamic range of purrs, growls and full-throated blues-wail to best effect yet. Lyrically, however, is where Blood Pressures takes it to the limit and owns its Lost Highway; pervasive longing and sadness hang over album opener “Future Starts Slow” and crunchy lead single “Satellite,” with the former boasting the incredible come-on, “You can holler/You can wail/You can blow what’s left of my right mind.” Just a few bars later is when it all goes dark: “There’s a time for the second best/There’s a time when the feeling’s gone/But it’s hard to be hard I guess when you’re shaking like a dog.” Let there be no doubt: Mosshart’s new job as front woman of the Dead Weather has begat fascinating creative — and personal — consequences for this band.
Perhaps it was a lark (or loneliness) in the studio that convinced Hince and Mosshart to dance through the darkness to drive the pain away, but arena-ready album highlights such as the ferocious “Nail in My Coffin” and menacing bruiser “DNA” are exactly the lane they should drive down to release those aching and quaking ya-ya’s. Matters only devolve further into heartbreak with the maudlin Patsy Cline-esque ballad “The Last Goodbye” and mesmerizing album closer “Pots and Pans”; both of which throw the kitchen sink at the listener, packing more of an emotional wallop than even the most devoted Kills fan is prepared for. It’s heady stuff, and damn near gossip-worthy, but if these two are going to get incendiary (and they do), better they tackle adult matters of the heart with hard-won clarity and resilience than hide behind grime, sweat and cigarette smoke. “These are the days we’ll never forget/When the dawn dawns on you,” indeed. Devastating.
Blood Pressures is the ideal grit-pop intersection of blue balls and speed balls as an antidote to fully succumbing to insecurity and heartache, which is exactly the shot of life that the Kills (and their fans) have been clamoring for all along. (Domino)