Jamie Hince and Alison Mosshart remind the world that they can still make a very pleasing racket when they put their minds to it
This year marks 20 years since the release of The Kills‘ debut album, Keep On Your Mean Side, two decades since they cemented their reputation as the epitome of art-rock cool. You’d be forgiven for thinking they’d quietly gone on ‘permanent hiatus’ though – their last album Ash & Ice was released back in 2016, while Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince have had no shortage of extra-curricular projects in the meantime. In fact, God Games, the first Kills album for seven years, began life as a Hince solo project. He started writing songs with the express intention of not sounding like Kills songs, only to find that Mosshart was, after all, the perfect foil for these tracks.
Paul Epworth has a long history with Mosshart and Hince, having worked with them back in their early days in 2002, but God Games marks the first time that he’s acted as the band’s producer. Epworth has helped to create a sound that’s very recognisable to fans, but also manages to stretch and expand the band’s musical palette. New York, for example, is a mighty opener – a song as exhilarating and abrasive as the city it’s named after. There’s bursts of horns, a glitchy beat, some jagged guitar riffs: basically, all you ever need from a Kills song. Lyrics like “you taste just like New York, before a storm takes hold” are evocative enough to transport you to the Bowery itself.
The other side of the country is represented too, in LA Hex, a weirdly dreamy, hazy song that has the lazy lope of early Groove Armada at times. Where New York is frenetic, itchy and pulsating, LA Hex is the polar opposite – laid back, with some woozy brass, and, unusually, some minimal input from Hince’s guitar. It’s no coincidence that these two songs have been released as singles, as they successfully show off both sides of God Games.
The most successful moments of God Games happen when the band revisit their more grimy, sleazy side – Love And Tenderness is a terrific shuffle of a song, with Hince’s squealing guitar lines accentuating Mosshart’s vocals as she purrs lines like “sweet dreams my ass, I want it back”. Going To Heaven is another highlight, a dark, gothic walk on the wild side, while My Girls My Girls sees Mosshart and Hince take dual vocals on a song which celebrate “those sing until I die vibe, reminisce while I cry vibes”. In the second half of the record, the mood takes a bit of a downturn – Blank is a piano ballad in which Mosshart sounds as impressive as ever, but it’s not as compelling as the moments where the Kills really let rip. There’s also a fair amount of filler on God Games, with songs like the title track and Bullet Sounds unlikely to ever stand shoulder to shoulder with their more exhilarating moments.
However there are enough moments on God Games to remind us that The Kills can still make a very pleasing racket when they put their minds to it. 301 and Waterpiece both have an unsettling, grungy aesthetic to them which could easily rank amongst the duo’s best songs. They may not define the zeitgeist as they did 20 years ago, but God Games proves they can still hit those old heights more often than not.