Twenty years on from their debut record, The Kills return with sixth studio LP God Games. And in the two decades passed, both Alison Mosshart and Jamie Hince have honed their craft. Mosshart, having formed The Dead Weather with Jack White has become an almost iconic frontwoman for noughties kids, while Hince found himself having to relearn the guitar after losing power in a left-hand finger.
The rough and ready garage-blues-rock of their earlier days is still noticeable in their work but with some added polish, perhaps owing in some small part to the experience also gained by original soundman Paul Epworth, who returns here following a clutch of awards and collaborations with A-list names such as Adele. However, it is ultimately the confidence, swagger and enhanced musicianship of Mosshart and Hince which runs deep on God Games and elevates it to new heights. For the first time, songs were written primarily at the piano, which might account for the deeper questions being asked on tracks like New York, 103 and Kingdom Come. The emotive call and response lyrics more suited to composition by the keys than on a scuzzy electric guitar. But while the writing may have been heavy on the piano, the razor-sharp riffs and licks of Hince’s guitar continue to provide the palette to which Mosshart paints her primal vocals upon. In production, they have added more texture with electronics and brass sections featuring too. It all adds up to a more refined version of The Kills as a band still seeking fresh ideas while committed to the ageless form of rock and roll.
As lyricists, The Kills have grown, with Hince using the concept of God (or Godlessness) as a creative outlet to explore spirituality, even while previously admitting his atheism. And like so many recording artists of the past few years, the Covid outbreak provided a point for reflection with Mosshart taking time to ask the uncomfortable questions only time and solitude can give space to do.
Like on latest single 103 (as in Fahrenheit) the brutal reality of daunting uninhabitability is viewed through the lens of a dark twisted love song; Mosshart offers, “stick with me under the last palm tree / and sip a little water from the dirty fountain meant to be / the sum of it all.”
And in a more menacing mood on Going to Heaven the pulsing beats and stabbing electronics anchor a woman who sounds ready to explode with rage but somehow keeping it together.
While elsewhere on the fantastically cynical Wasterpiece, the harmony of both leads on vocals singing “that high on life shit…that do alright shit…I don’t buy it” is propelled by heartbeat drums and an unsettling bass synth.
The laissez-faire Better Days finds both in seemingly relaxed, melancholic moods with Mosshart’s anguished vocal underpinned by the sanguine harmony of Hince before his twisted, angular guitar belies the despair behind the words: “better days, baby don’t go looking, just let it play out.”
God Games is a product of a band who know they’re at the top of their game. The confidence is in the music, the swaggering vocals, razor sharp guitar and ever slicker production. They may not be a back-of-a-van down ‘n’ dirty double act these days but the spirit of their roots remains.