Keep On Your Mean Side

May 28, 2003 at 12:00 am

My friend and I just got into a steaming argument about the Kills. He claims it’s just outright theft, that the Kills should apologize to the surviving members of the Velvet Underground and Patti Smith, then take their scratchy guitar anxiety and boy-girl incantation and go home to Mama.

He has a valid point. The Kills have sprung from the current New Wave of New Wave, with Gun Club, Television, Captain Beefheart and X also casting their long shadows. If you’re gonna be snide about it, it’s one long bluesy reworking of “Black Angel Death Song.”

But it’s a prowling, druggy bitch of an album, soaked in sweat and ugly emotion, more of that newfangled “blunk” combo of blues and punk rock that the White Stripes have copyrighted somewhere, but nastier, harsher. Where the White Stripes feature god and redemption in equal doses to balance out the pain, the Kills offer lust and distrust in equal doses. The repetitive blues format really suits this kind of chaotic energy, full of superstitious rage and its own evil charm.

There is no innocence to be lost here; like a coke crash, it’s all paranoia and bad, amplified truth. When the chicks VV and Hotel sing “don’t you leave me here/ get my name stitched on your lips so you don’t get hitched,” through ghostly reverb, the love song has just been abandoned for something more brutal, less sentimental. After the chorus of “Fuck the People,” the next song delivers “It’s the monkey on my back/ makes me talk like that,” and that’s about as close to redemption and forgiveness as it gets.

Heavy investment in blues mythology by way of punk rock — or visa versa — grants anonymity for this US/ UK case of the mean reds. VV is so called because she chooses, Hotel, because she likes hotels. Instead of working like a cheap stunt, the phony monikers serve the disc. The record’s snake-belly anger doesn’t live in the details; rather, details make it personal, and this is the archetypal comedown record.

Here’s the bottom line. If you like twisted rock music and don’t already own The Velvet Underground & Nico or any of the early Patti Smith albums, you should probably go down to the record store and fork over for those right now. If you did fork out for them and you love them, then get the Kills — it’s a winner. Unless you’re going through a “they don’t make bands as good as they used to” phase, in which case you should keep your goddamn money, because the Kills won’t deliver the rush you’re looking for — because they can’t. There’s no cure for the jaded ear.

Shireen Liane writes about music for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected].