I fell hard.  I fell early.  I fell deep.

And surely we did offer up 
Behind that stage at dawn 
Beers and barracuda, reds and monocaine, yeah 
Pure nectar of antipathy 
Behind that stage at dawn 
To those who would resign their souls 
To Transmaniacon MC

Clad in black, stumbling, mumbling, numb; for an abstemious man, I do like me some good drug rock. 

And, my friend, just for you I can do you a great deal on the Kills, a cut-my-own-throat great deal.  Your first listen to No Wow is absolutely free.  You play it you like it, you need it, you come right back to me and we talk terms, eh?  just a note of caution my friend, I find you been listening to the Kills elsewhere, then you and me are going to have a sharp problem, understand? I tell you this because I like you, because I want to keep you safe.  You dig?

My little sister's eyes so wide 
They must have been the size of the city moon tonight 
My little sister's eyes so wide 
Must have been the size of the city

I first saw the Kills supporting Primal Scream in Liverpool* in 2002, nobody there had heard of them – they only had one EP out at the time.  There they stood a scruffy man with a sticky-up haircut (Hotel) and a scruffy dark-haired woman (VV), a drum machine and two guitars.  My expectations were low.  Then they just hit play and they were astonishing; intense, confrontational, cool.  On the train back we talked about them far more than the headliners, my mate and I became fans. 

No Wow, released in 2005 is their second LP and it was a very worthy follow up to the debut Keep On Your Mean Side**.  No Wow was what was left in the crucible after three hard years touring and living after dark, after any purity had been boiled away.  It was MORE – a distillation of their essence and their art, no radical departures, no dull copycatistications, a real moment of woozy-eyed cold clarity halfway through a month-long binge.

Just slip on the opener and title track^.  That glitching drum machine intro, the way the guitars creep into the frame before VV’s vocals kick in, half-assertive and half-plaintive. It is great and then it just builds and builds and builds!  I love the deceptive simplicity of it all and the best comparison I can come up with is a more DIY version of (fellow 1537-faves) Royal Trux.  There’s some real guitar bite here too, which is always a bonus. 

Did you get the real good ones 
Did you get the good ones 
Did you get the real good ones 
Did you get the good ones

‘Love Is A Deserter’ is a swaggering urban blues strut, Koko Taylor filtered via PJ Harvey, more vocal led than their previous tracks.  It is sung with the air of someone who knows she should be feeling something right now, but just isn’t yet.  The Burroughsian-titled ‘Dead Road 7’ is less striking, more of a stylistic exercise than a real song but no less a listen because of it; is it a damn cool style.

Lead single ‘The Good Ones’, is currently my very favourite song about buying drugs down a darkened street.  It is positively poppy^^ and just absolutely perfect, boiling all the qualms, all the difficulties, all those needs down to the one question that matters.  I live in hope that one day all music will be this cool.  It won’t be, but hey.

Take the water for the water tastes good 
I took the water and the water was hot 
Once in a while ... once in a while you got to 
Burn your lips keep your feelings alive 
Once in a while ... once in a while you got to 
Burn down your house keep your dreaming alive

Side 2 highlights include the excellent ‘At The Back Of The Shell’, which never fails to baffle me as I simply haven’t a clue what it is about – I’m guessing drugs, or bad relationships – but also as they have stolen the rhythm from Queen and Bowie’s ‘Under Pressure’, if you listen carefully enough.  Imagine if Freddie, David and the boys had been recording live on Crime Alley whilst Jonesing for a fix, instead of Montreux and you are part way there. 

Second time I saw them – they were even better.

I am also very fond of the gentler, lo-fi country ‘Rodeo Town’, where the beat box is revealed as the perfect driver for Americana, it sounds like  a better-focused Liz Phair.  Then we saddle on up for another fucked-up drug-a-rama-lama-ding-dong on ‘Murdermile’, or at least that’s what it sounds like to me – I might even be just projecting somewhat here, but all the references to ‘tracks’ make me a tad suspicious.  The shared vocals, half-sweet half-menacing, snake around the clashing clanging guitars all propelled by antiquated electronics, it is a potent stew.

No Wow‘s closer is the minimal, vulnerable blues of ‘Ticket Man’ … now, I’m going to stick my neck out here again and call another drugs reference.  To my mind this one sounds like a very candid Janis Joplin number; bruised, bloodied, knowing all the pitfalls but unable to stop it is excellent, right up to the footsteps walking away at the end of the track, the end of the LP. 

Now I know, I know bad drugs are, umm, bad for you, bad for society and a fundamental source of misery for millions.  I have absolutely no idea what VV and Hotel’s intake is/was/has ever been/ever will be but, let’s face it No Wow isn’t really about real drugs affecting real people in real situations.  It is, to my mind, part of that great mythology of cool US drug music and literature – you know, mainlining the Stooges, William S Burroughs, VU and all manner of shades-at-night leather-jacketed cool fiends in impossibly cool bars, their angular features half-shadowed in candlelight.  I can take and consume No Wow freewheeling, entirely without engaging my moral gears. 

It is all a myth of course, arch and arty as can be.  I lost track of the Kills after No Wow and the next I heard Hotel was marrying Kate Moss and VV was playing in Dead Weather with my second favourite member of the White Stripes.  For a while though they were a great band, a real fix.

Did you get the real good ones 
Did you get the good ones 
Did you get the real good ones 
Did you get the good ones

Yes, the very good ones.

939 Down. 

PS.  Initial copies of No Wow came with one of those new-fangled DVDs.  Titled I Hate The Way You Love it is a 48-minute documentary and travelogue with the band which reminds me just how great they were live. 

PPS: Because I love you all:

*the headliners played one of the very best gigs I have ever been to and their support act were not far behind. 

**includes 1537 and daytime radio staples, ‘Fuck The People’ and ‘Black Rooster (Fuck and Fight)’. 

^I love it when bands name their LP after the opening track.  It’s such a wonderful swaggering gesture.  Are you listening Pet Sounds?!


23 thoughts on “Yes, The Good Ones

  1. I’m here for The Kills, but, here’s the thing, I don’t think I was that taken by them. And I don’t know if I’ve heard this or the first album. I assume not this one, cause you’ve made it sound very good. Is this one of those situations where I want to like something more than I do?

    Also, copycatistications. Love it.

    1. I suspect it might be, seeing them live is what got me hooked. I think the first two LPs are great, I lost track after that, especially when they got a bit more celebrity-y.

      Thank you, sometimes you have to bend words to get them to work properly, I find.

  2. Wow! I promise not to listen to the Kills except here. I don’t feel like being knifed. I actually want to listen to them after this and I have never listened to them. You make it sound so intriguing, dangerous and great at the same time.

    1. That’s good man, nobody wants a problem here. We can all stay friends.

      Thanks John, I try. Plus I sneaked a Vow Wow reference in there – my mate used to be absolutely obsessed with them. I heard that tape with ‘Helter Skelter’ on it a million and a half times. I’ve never owned it but I bet I could sing along with every word, even though I haven’t heard it for at least 31 years!

      But, yes, I like the Kills – they do transgressive things, or sing about them at least, so I can live it all vicariously through them, then have a nice dinner and go to bed early.

  3. Don’t you love when an opening band totally blows you away and you come away almost as or more excited about them than the band you went to see? Pulp was like that for me when I saw them open for Blur in 1994.

    1. Jon Spencer Blues Explosion utterly blew away Beastie Boys for me once too. There was nothing wrong with the BB’s performance at all, but JSBX were just another level.

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