The Kills have, since their 2003 debut album, been pegged for that vaunted “breakthrough” that will launch them from the land of videogame soundtrack placement, brief profiles in the front of Spin, and modest tours into whatever success is beyond that for bands at this point. Though four albums in, the real “breakthrough” would be someone refusing to reference the White Stripes in any story/review/pictorial about the Kills (it ain’t gonna be me).
But it’s hard to shake the feeling that the band’s fourth album, Blood Pressures, is the one that will take the Kills to the next level. It’s the non-music stuff that could play the biggest part in vaulting the Kills: Jamie Hince is a British tabloid staple thanks to his engagement and entanglements with Kate Moss, and people are actually vaguely aware of Alison Mosshart’s magnetic talents thanks to her two mildly rewarding albums with Jack White’s Dead Weather project (those damn White Stripes, again!). But Blood Pressures could finish the job the band’s increased profile started: it’s their most complete album, rarely suffering from the malaise that plagued 2008’s Midnight Boom, the aimless screeching of 2005’s No Wow, and the lack of quality beyond the singles of 2003’s Keep on Your Mean Side.
You’re not going to get any stylistic change this far in: Blood Pressures is full of the potboiling slow-blooze town-razers that made the Kills a favorite close to a decade ago. Mosshart still seduces, sauntering around Hince’s horny guitar riffs like the musical equivalent of Eartha Kitt’s leopard printed Catwoman. Where in Dead Weather she was asked to play the company woman alongside White and company, she gets to be the star here, howling lines like “blow what’s left of my right mind” and “I want to feel it” on opener “Future Starts Slow,” and never letting up, except for on the slight ballad “The Last Goodbye.”
But Hince seems the most energized, dropping his most compelling riffs yet here, like the three-year layoff between Kills albums left him pent up with more stone-cold crushers than he knew what to do with. He collapses buildings with “Heart is a Beating Drum,” “DNA” and “You Don’t Own the Road,” before taking it to the delta for “Pots and Pans,” “Damned if She Do” and “Satellite.” Hince probably didn’t need to, but he emphatically makes his case to Mosshart that he’s the only famous guitarist she needs to be messing with.
The recent mega-success of the Black Keys proves none of us in indie world really know when or how a band will “break,” but even the band’s label is predicting Blood Pressures will be the band’s biggest album. It certainly sounds like the biggest thing Hince and Mosshart have ever cooked up, meant not for computer speakers, but for a leveling speaker system at the edge of a canyon. The Kills might be on the same level come next album, but Blood Pressures shows the band as an institution still worthy of adulation, mainstream or not.