The phrase ‘art-rock’ has been slowly working its way into the conscious fabric of musical cliché. But it’s such a loose term, banded about so haphazardly that recently it’s been pinned on Franz Ferdinand, Bloc Party, Interpol and Kaiser Chiefs amongst others.
If that divisive list suggests anything, it’s that art-rock actually means bugger all. With the release of this, their second album, The Kills have also been lazily lumbered into that ever-growing category, having previously been labelled as part of the garage-rock revolution. But with a slight bit of re-jigging and a borrowed artistic movement we can try and create a better hole with which to pigeon them. So here goes: if you so desire, you can brand The Kills minimalist art-rock.
Because while musicians usually seem more inclined to take the path of more, more, more, The Kills say less, less, less. Not so much wall of sound as skeletons of notes. The less is more mantra is writ large over No Wow, and from the moment the stark drum pattern commences the opening track, to the solemn gothic hymn of album closer Ticket Man, it’s clear that Hotel and VV, the male and female halves of The Kills, are trying to redefine what is extraneous in music and what is vital. And they succeed. Oh lordy how they succeed.
But forget all that. Forget all the pretentious talk of ‘marrying all areas of art and life’ and concentrate on the songs. Bluesy, punky slabs of intent, black of heart, glacially cool: No Wow, with its sparse beat, chopped, fuzzy guitar and offhand vocal, is dark, savage and bleak. Rodeo Town comes on like Warhol-era Velvets covering PJ Harvey whilst prospecting for gold in a deserted town on the frontier. Murdermile writhes and contorts around an almost industrially heavy riff; unrelenting, agitated and, with VV savouring each lyric before spitting them at you with a languid flick of her disdainful tongue, a nihilistic delight.
And there are so many other moments on No Wow that demand attention: check the brief pause in Love Is A Deserter, saturating the track with a cocky poise to go with its dismissiveness; check the stolen Studio 54 drum machine that props up recent single The Good Ones and check the precise, jarring riff which fills I Hate The Way You Love with mocking contempt.
Grouping them in with the garage-rock scene that they wandered unwittingly into in 2002 was always just plain wrong. The Kills show far more longevity and creativity simply because they don’t belong. These two are outsiders, kindred spirits who don’t really seem to care about you or I but who just do their own thing on their own terms, comfortable with the knowledge that their undertaking is absolutely right.
If you think that sounds like arrogance, sounds lacking in compassion then you’d be right. No Wow doesn’t offer explanations, doesn’t showcase human kindness and won’t offer solace to anyone in a time of need, but it drips with dirty, sleazy, amped-up attitude. Malevolence and meanness have never sounded better. Besides, if you want companionship and understanding, buy a frickin’ dog.