For a band whose music relies so heavily on themes of sex, drugs and the sort of volatility that comes from a life of rock n’roll, the Kills are surprisingly consistent. In fact, their newest album is almost predictable. “Ash and Ice,” the gritty rock duo’s fifth album, is another iteration of their formula for raunchy guitar riffs, smoky vocals and suggestive lyrics. That isn’t to say “Ash and Ice” is stale. Rather, the album has a welcome familiarity, considering it’s been five years since the release of their last album.
The Kills are good at what they do. And what duo members Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince do is craft the perfect blend of rock, blues and electronic drum machines for a sound that’s uniquely theirs. It’s a sound that’s not at all contrived, marked by the authenticity of a duo that’s oozed grit since its conception. That Mosshart and Hince are quickly approaching 40 and 50 years of age, respectively, adds to rather than detracts from the persona that is the Kills.
“Ash and Ice” begins with the almost explicit “Doing It to Death.” Mosshart’s breathy vocals and Hince’s hammering guitar make for a perfect opening track, though not as strong as albums before. Nothing can really beat the opening lyrics of the Kills’ 2005 “No Wow” (“You’re gonna have to step over my dead body, before you walk out that door”), but this one tries.
The album’s most memorable songs have already been marked as singles. “Heart of a Dog” follows the first track and radio cut. In it, Mosshart proposes utterly dog-like loyalty to the subject of her affections, juxtaposed with the infidelity so common in rock music. If the band needs another single, my money’s on “Hard Habit to Break,” the next track. But from there, the songs begin to blend together. With little deviation from their formula for blues rock success, it becomes clear that “Ash and Ice” is just another Kills album. To an extent, then, the album’s biggest weakness is that it plays it a little too close to the chest. It’s exactly what you’d expect of the Kills.
But this may be for the better.
“Ash and Ice” is free of any of the gimmicky, cringe-inducing musical “exploration” you might find in an album by one of the band’s contemporaries — Jack White being the most glaring example. White’s last album had many of the Kills’ same blues and rock elements, but an artificial vintage theme made it sound more like a wild west saloon straight out of Disneyland.
But like White, whose work is separated by years of silence, “Ash and Ice” comes five years after the Kills’ last album. Despite the five-year separation, “Ash and Ice” could have been released five days after 2011’s “Blood Pressures.” The album’s’ only differences are in their release dates — much of “Ash and Ice” fits in better with the indie landscape of popular music today than any of their previous albums would. “Days of Why and How” and “Echo Home” could easily fit in on any alternative rock playlist on Spotify.
Considering that the band formed in 2000 and last released an album in 2011, it’s odd that anyone under the age of 18 listens to them. But they do. During their March stop in Philadelphia for a show that had been postponed roughly by six months, this became incredibly clear. Countless high-pitched — likely millennial — screams from the audience declared their love for Alison throughout the night, much to the chagrin of the significantly older audience members.
That the Kills can attract such a wide audience with a style and discography that’s largely stayed the same speaks volumes: they’re doing it right. But if their new album comes out sooner than five years from now, maybe it’ll be time to try something a little different.