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The Kills

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The Kills - 'Keep On Your Mean Side'

(Thursday March 13, 2003 3:10 PM )

Released on 10/03/2003
Label: Domino

That title sounds like tough life advice - and well it might. The Kills know that this don't come easy. The Anglo-American duo of Hotel (Jamie Hince, once of Scarfo and later, Fiji) and VV (Alison Mosshart, formerly of Florida punkers Discount) have just delivered a debut album which is the result of two years, rather than months locked away in not-quite-so-splendid bedroom isolation.

It's the sound of rock reared on cigarettes, booze and self-belief, the product of a treat-it-mean, keep-it-lean philosophy and a stripped-to-the-bone aesthetic audacious enough to have them dispense with the services of a drummer altogether. A cheap machine keeps brutally economic, perfectly primitive time for the pair, who hack away at twanging, hypnotically lean, blues-soaked, twin guitars and trade vocal parts with a sexually-charged, dynamic intensity that's all too rare among the current crop of garage rock bandwagon-jumpers.

Recorded on eight-track at London's legendary lo-fi heaven, Toe Rag Studios (also famously favoured of late by The White Stripes), 'Keep On Your Mean Side' recalls the Velvet Underground, Patti Smith, 'Dry'-era PJ Harvey, Captain Beefheart and - especially - Royal Trux, but The Kills' rawness and vitality refute any accusations of either purism or retroism. With its white noise, answer phone messages, coughs and between-take asides, this is as much a personal document as an album, the warmly intimate sound of a day's work done in real time and the product of a particularly impassioned - if not always harmonious - relationship.

It opens with the almost masturbatory riffing of 'Superstition', a low-slung, malevolent and animal thing spiked with a guttural growl from VV which makes Linda Blair in 'The Exorcist' sound like Julie Andrews. 'Cat Claw' - pulled from last year's 'Black Rooster' EP - follows, its thrillingly repetitive lyric ("you got it, I want it") more a voodoo incantation than a chorus.

Somehow, sex and love are smeared everywhere, but neither as porn fantasy nor chocolate-box romance: the troubled ghost of Robert Johnson hovers over 'Kissy Kissy'; 'Hitched' is shadowed by a Suicide-like darkness and carries the lyric which gives the album its title, along with the freaky "get my name stitched on your lips so you won't get..... hitched"; there's apparently a rattlesnake in the basement of the house where the pair "fuck and fight", according to 'Black Rooster'.

Few debuts are as intriguingly addictive, physically compelling or effortlessly hip as this. Kill-er cool, pretty much.

    by Sharon O'Connell

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