The Kills

Keep on Your Mean Side

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On their full-length debut, Keep on Your Mean Side, the Kills deliver on the promise of their Black Rooster EP, serving up more of their sneering, sexy blues-punk with a little more polish and premeditation. It's easy to lump them in with the current crop of garage rock revivalists -- and granted, the band bears more than a passing resemblance to the White Stripes' bluesy sound and boy-girl lineup -- but Keep on Your Mean Side suggests that the Kills' true lineage comes from a darker, more poetic strain of rock. Naturally, the Velvet Underground are a major influence, particularly on the ominous, droning guitar work that forms the backbone of "Kissy Kissy." On songs like "Superstition," shades of punk poetesses like Chrissie Hynde, Patti Smith, and (especially) PJ Harvey color VV's sultry, commanding delivery, which is about as far from her work with her former band, Discount, as it's possible to get with the same set of vocal cords. And on "Fuck the People" and other charged duets between her and guitarist/vocalist Hotel, the Kills have some of the Bonnie & Clyde romance that made Royal Trux so great. The pair doesn't quite outdo their inspirations yet -- they're not as inventive, dramatic, or volatile as the aforementioned artists -- but the Kills do combine these elements in a way that's relatively fresh and distinctive. Keep on Your Mean Side includes re-recorded versions of three of the best songs from Black Rooster: the "f*ck and fight" duet of the title track; "Cat Claw," which boasts snarly VV vocals and even snarlier guitar licks from Hotel; and "Wait," a countrified, acoustic number that demonstrates the band's range. These new versions -- recorded along with the rest of the album at London's Toerag Studios -- are far from hi-fi, but miss the recorded-in-the-basement quality that gave the originals more of an underground feel. Though the album could use a bit more grit and grime, it's still remarkably solid, with songs like the driven "Hitched" and the surprisingly sweet "Gypsy Death & You" spanning the extremes of the Kills' sound and proving that Black Rooster was just a taste of what the band had to offer. Likewise, Keep on Your Mean Side hints at greater heights (or scuzzier, more elegantly wasted depths) that the Kills will hopefully scale on later albums.

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