In 2011, cross-continental duo The Kills (Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince) gave us Blood Pressures, a distinctly minimalist venture further into the crunchy, gutsy side of blues-tinged modern rock the duo are renowned for. Of all their four offerings to that point, it was their standout – sexy, gritty and dangerous. It was The Kills: personified in sound. It served them well, too catapulting them into the Top 40 for the first time in both the US and the UK. Then, just as the band began working on their follow-up, Hince suffered an injury that derailed The Kills completely.
Having broken his finger, he was given a cortisone shot, to which he had what can only be described as a devastatingly adverse reaction. The reaction was so bad that it saw Hince undergo five operations, including a tendon replacement, after which he had to relearn to play guitar without his middle finger. In the meantime, Mosshart undertook other projects, most notably as frontwoman for The Dead Weather and her visual artwork. Given that The Kills’ sound relies so heavily on Hince’s accommodatingly crunchy guitar riffs which Mosshart’s voice plays off, there is little wonder their latest offering comes five years after Blood Pressures.
Still, in the wake of all their time working on other projects and relearning their craft, respectively, it is a little disappointing to find that Ash & Ice is not quite the triumphant return from The Kills that the first three singles lead us to believe it would be. There are certain things one comes to expect from an album by The Kills and while Ash & Ice delivers them, it seems to do so without the guts and gusto once synonymous with the UK-US duo.
Opening the album, Doing It To Death starts things off strong, frenetic synthesisers and crunchy guitars. Mosshart’s distinct vocals are a brilliant wake-up, as they always are. As Heart Of A Dog follows, things are looking up. Then, we come to Hard Habit To Break and it would seem that we are now tip-toeing into tepid water. Bitter Fruit, with its fuzzy riffs and duelling vocals, confirms this and on through the record we go, as though wading through the motions until we get to the other side. We find relief in Days Of Why And How and Echo Home, a pair of darker, more considered and particularly commanding tracks placed at the middle and near the album’s close respectively.
As they sing on Echo Home, it seems that The Kills “got lost” along their journey to make a new record. There is little to connect to throughout this latest offering. Given the first few tracks, it is disappointing come down. On the whole, Ash & Ice feels neither particularly inspired nor invigorating. Rather, it is an album from The Kills which possesses all the right ingredients but very little of the guts.
Despite the introduction of instruments and techniques new to the band, it comes across as formulaic. The songs are good, but we have heard (better versions of) them before from the band. There is nothing wrong with having a distinct sound, but they don’t really go anywhere here: the sounds and themes throughout are ones that have been done to death throughout the band’s 15-odd year career and they come across as lacking any of the gritty, urgent desire they once did so well.
There are a few standouts that are ready-cut for live performance, with Doing It To Death, Impossible Tracks, Heart Of A Dog and Echo Home taking us where we want to go (that is, somewhere we want to be, rather than simply through the motions of getting there) and the record itself is certain to keep Splendour In The Grass’ punters happy as with Mosshart’s vocals, it remains distinctly The Kills. Still, that small handful of tracks aside, Ash & Ice is unfortunately little more than the sum of its parts.