- The Washington Times - Monday, March 14, 2005

The Kills

No Wow

Rough Trade Records

A little of the Kills goes a long way. Or a lot goes a short way. It’s hard to decide which.

“No Wow,” the second album from this half-American, half-British blues-punk duo, is leaner but not meaner than its predecessor, the fittingly titled “Keep on Your Mean Side.” The leanness grabs your attention only to tax it through chronic repetition.

The Kills’ calling is to take rock’s barest essentials — a backbeat, a riff — and chill them in a subzero atmosphere of postmodern aloofness. Unlike the White Stripes, the Kills use a thinly thumping drum machine, with halfhearted efforts to thaw the artificiality with real percussion and hand claps.

Their songs are also hot with talk of love, hate, guns and red lipstick that looks its “ch-ch-cherry best.” More of this would be welcome, but the Kills settle for fragmentary lyrics that dissolve like momentary thoughts.

“Lost a lot of blood/Lost a lot of cool cool cool” is a line considered so pregnant with possibility that it’s used in two songs, one more adrift than the next.

The American half of the Kills is Floridian Alison Mosshart, aka VV. She can purr like Chrissie Hynde and sneer like PJ Harvey. Her shtick is to sound menacing and vulnerable all at once — a ball of spikes coming to cry on your shoulder. How would you take, for example, a line such as “a body split in two doesn’t know how to sleep”?

Just as often, however, ambiguity escapes the twosome. Whenever Miss Mosshart mentions the word love, a safe bet is that she means, and feels, the opposite. Take “Love Is a Deserter,” on which she commands, “Get the guns out.” Then there’s “I Hate the Way You Love,” a tale of ennui told in two parts (“You bored me then and now you just bore me some more”).

The Kills’ Brit half is boyfriend Jamie Hince, aka Hotel, a connoisseur of vintage guitar tones that the most expensive digital technology can’t, and may never, replicate. His riffs, thick and meatless as a femur, as fuzzy as bad radio reception, are a purist’s delight. As songs, though, they’re demos waiting for next-stage input.

“No Wow” is really a series of grungy tone poems rather than a fully realized package of music. One exception is “Rodeo Town,” a restrained melodic rocker with — gasp — a minor chord or two. Miss Mosshart flirts dangerously again with melody on “Ticket Man,” but the song sleepwalks toward the album’s close.

As artists, the Kills are less than the sum of their influences: the benumbed ambience of the Velvet Underground, the cloacal blues of early British rock. But to be good at deconstruction, it helps first to be good at construction.

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