I know it’s annoying when people talk about how great past generations were as if there weren’t always problems that made people yearn for a better time but, fuck, I wish I could have experienced the garage rock revolution of the early 2000s as an adult. While I was obsessing over musical theater in middle school and high school, legendary bands like The Strokes, Yeah Yeah Yeahs, and Franz Ferdinand were tearing up the eardrums of those much more tuned in than I was.
Over the past few years, as I’ve been filling my empty rolodex of classic indie music, garage duo The Kills have not only become an important entry, but also an irresistible act that I can’t get out of my head. Pairing guitarist Jamie Hince and singer Alison Mosshart, their first few albums took lo-fi to the next level, producing beautifully filthy anthems that could still blow out your speakers today. While bands with four or five members can fill halls with crisp guitar riffs, The Kills can tear up their guitar and pummel their drum kit to the same sized effect just between the two of them.
I saw them live twice on their tour supporting their fifth album Ash and Ice, but what stuck with me most of all were the tracks from Midnight Boom, their third record. With the help of a blown out beat machine, the pair began to fully flush songs out with this album out in terms of songwriting, as opposed to shredding over sparse lyrics as in previous records (though earlier songs like “Kissy Kissy” and “Monkey 23” repeat the same lines and they’re some of their best work). The monstrous chords of No Wow and Keep on Your Mean Side take a back seat ear-splitting solos and gnarled beats that’ll maul your senses.
The most successful entry of their change in sound is the dance-floor-ready hit “Sour Cherry.” Hince has said he loved making Midnight Boom because he got to play with a sampler for the first time and he crafted such a simple yet hard to resist beat for this song. Then they mauled it with a rusted chainsaw and sang over it like pissed off cheerleaders. Despite the distortion, Hollywood took notice and it appeared on the soundtrack for random movies like The House Bunny and The Secret Life of Pets. In most cases, this commercialism would be a sign of selling out, but “Sour Cherry” proved to be the rancid fruit of a garage band that felt like getting their groove on.
Of course, Midnight Boom isn’t a dance record. Hince still rips up this guitar on other standout tracks like “The Tape Song” and “M.E.X.I.C.O.” The former still manages to hype audiences up as soon as its double-time beat begins to play. And that’s thanks to the restrained beat bursting open at the chorus as Mosshart screeches “You got to go steal ahead” over another metallic solo from Hince. At only a minute and a half long, “M.E.X.I.C.O.” strays almost into punk rock territory, turning that fucked up beat machine and rusted guitar all the way up to Mach 5—it’s a blip of a song, but it’ll leave you with a black eye before you know it.
Despite being a fresh take on their own sound, Midnight Boom does sometimes feel devoid of the riffs, chords, and even the soul that shook your core in their previous records. As volatile as Hince’s presence is, it often takes a back seat to Hosshart’s vocals and the new production style which feels a little, for lack of a better word, unfair. When he’s not piercing our eardrums with his industrial solos, his strumming simply growls when it roared in past records. I can also imagine the change in sound shocked to fans at the time, going from blues to distorted pop.
While I listen to the album the most out of their whole discography, I still feel a little hesitant to proclaim it as my favorite one from The Kills. I can say “The Tape Song” is one of my favorite songs by them, but the soul of their first two albums and the return to garage for their fourth album Blood Pressures also provide a certain kind of high that isn’t present on the third LP. With a band that is constantly shapeshifting, I guess it just depends on the day.