A lot has happened in the five year interim between The Kills’ spectacular 2011 album, Blood Pressures and their latest release, Ash & Ice. Alison Mosshart returned to record and briefly tour Dodge and Burn, the third album from The Dead Weather, the supergroup side-project she shares with Jack White, Dean Fertita and Jack Lawrence. She also held an exhibition of her abstract paintings and portraits, the colours and compositions reminiscent of Don Van Vliet’s artwork. A lesser occurrence to happen to Mosshart was the transformation of her raven locks to a bleached blonde barnet. Jamie Hince on the other hand (perhaps an unfortunate term of phrase) lost a tendon after several surgeries to remedy an accident between a car door and his hand. His personal life became a constant source of imposing articles speculating about, and then confirming his separation from former wife, supermodel Kate Moss. It is impossible to not wonder if some of the lyrics in this album are a response to the demise of the relationship, ‘That Love’, reflects on a toxic union, “It’s over now, that love you’re in is a fucking joke.”
The revered creative relationship between Mosshart and Hince continues to excite fans and critics, now more than ever, in their thirteen year tenure as The Kills. However, Ash & Ice is perhaps not the album everyone was hoping for from the duo. There are several distinct differences in The Kills’ musical style throughout the thirteen songs. Immediately, it is apparent that the compositions are not as layered or possess the same spontaneous energy that made the previous albums timeless treats. The band had been prolific and consistent in releasing the perfect combinations of progressive riffs and drum machine beats that were met with everyday elements like throat clearing coughs and dialtones. The lo-fi production and abandon of musical conformities thoroughly enriched The Kills’ mash of electro-garage influences which are sadly lacking in Ash & Ice. Let us take a minute to remember the opening riffs of ‘Future Starts So Slow’, ‘Baby Says’, and ‘Kissy Kissy’ – these were moments of musical mystic that had you hooked as a listener from the first time your heard them. The absence of these gritty, thunderous sounds hinders the love at first listen factor that devout fans were accustomed to following the release of new material from the duo.
This shift was born out of necessity on Hince’s behalf while he was recovering from his injury, which almost ended his ability to play the guitar. The rationing of guitar ignited a heavy dependancy on a more polished, if not regressed use of the drum machine. Some of the intros and melodies, ‘Bitter Fruit’ and ‘Let It Drop’, in particular sound dated and after a few initial listens you become less tolerant of those songs, and find yourself promptly returning to the moments where The Kills return to their steadfast formula that they effortlessly excel at with Ash & Ice’s singles, namely, ‘Heart Of A Dog.’ A song that will undoubtedly rouse audiences during their promotional tour.
Personally, this review was exceptionally challenging because The Kills are a band that I have always held in high esteem. Their music helped me get through the stressful end of secondary school, providing an instant source of escapism, transforming banal situations into energetic ones. Naturally, it was upsetting to feel a disappointment towards Ash & Ice as an entity. I do take comfort though the singles, as well as ‘Days Of How And Why’, and ‘Echo Tempo’, both pared back, slow tempo songs that rekindle a belief of the ingenuity of The Kills.
This is an album that demands perseverance, but it is worth it for the songs that hark back to what The Kills used to be. Taken in sections, Ash & Ice is not a disappointing album, but it frequently wavers between hot and cold.