The magnetic pairing of Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart have been coming together to thrill audiences as The Kills for more than 15 years now. While the duo’s lo-fi, scratchy rock has consistently progressed during that time, one constant is the perfect partnership of Mosshart’s howling vocals with Hince’s gritty guitar riffs. It shouldn’t work, but has turned out to be a match made in heaven.
Although they have both had plenty of projects outside of The Kills, Mosshart and Hince have always been drawn back to each other and it is together that they have created their best work. In fact, it seems hard to believe that five years have passed since their last collaboration, 2011’s impressive Blood Pressures.
A number of factors contributed to the absence of new material from The Kills: during the intervening years, Hince married and split with supermodel Kate Moss, as well as spending time fine-tuning his abilities as a producer, while Mosshart was busy working on her third record with supergroup The Dead Weather – the band she fronts with Jack White. Yet the biggest hinderance to their return was Hince breaking his finger, leaving serious doubts over whether he would play the guitar again.
Thankfully, six operations and one tendon transplant later, The Kills are back with their fifth LP, Ash & Ice. And it appears the uncertainty caused by the long lay-off has worked in their favour, Hince’s different approach to songwriting notable throughout the album. There is a patience to the The Kills this time around, something demonstrated on opener Doing It To Death, which also retains many of the band’s best qualities.
“Baby save it, we’re wasted/I know we gotta slow it down,” sings Mosshart, with more restraint than usual, as Hince’s scaling guitar riff happily trundles along with the sparse beat in the background; still instantly recognisable as The Kills, but with a delicacy to the end product. The same is true of the slow-burner Days Of Why And How, which largely relies on a stuttering beat and a very slight guitar riff from Hince.
Hum For Your Buzz is another track in no hurry, with Hince’s bluesy guitar flourishes the only backing for Mosshart’s big emotive chorus: “I am a believer/right on the brink of thinking/I cannot be so easily brought to my knees.” Even on heavier efforts like Heart Of A Dog and Bitter Fruit, they rarely move out of second gear. The former sees Mosshart at her authoritative best, while the latter features one of Hince’s signature dirty riffs.
Occasionally this more stripped back, deliberate approach falls flat. This is certainly the case on the all-too forgettable Let It Drop and Impossible Tracks, where Mosshart sounds almost demonic over a rumbling guitar hook. Hard Habit To Break is better – making good use of the drum machine and Hince’s machine gun guitar squalls – while the creeping Siberian Nights is one of the standout moments here.
Then there’s the poignant That Love, which feels like the real heart of Ash & Ice, distilling all the prevalent themes and the pair’s more open approach to songwriting into one song. “It’s over now/That love you’re in is fucked up,” asserts Mosshart in what appears to be a clear nod at Hince’s failed marriage. Echo Home is another beauty, as Mosshart and Hince combine on vocals to marvellous effect.
Ultimately, vulnerability seems to frame much of what is good about Ash & Ice. There are several false starts during The Kills’ fifth effort and the execution does not always quite match the intention, but for the most part it’s a successful return for the duo. Following up a well-received record like Blood Pressures was never going to be simple after such a long break, but Mosshart and Hince have managed to deliver once again.