Long ago, I was pen pals with Alison Mosshart. This was back before she became the lanky, cigarette-devouring rock savior and enigmatic face—usually blanketed beneath a matted sheet of black hair—of the Kills. We didn't have much in common, other than being a pair of pudgy kids hidden under hoodies, but thanks to some crossed-path meetings and mutual acquaintances (she fronted the underappreciated Gainesville, Florida, pop-punk outfit Discount, and I was neighbors with the trailer-residing couple who released Discount's albums in Encinitas, California), we ended up trading correspondences back before email snuffed out the thrill of sending and receiving handwritten letters. Much like our antiquated means of communication, this seems a lifetime ago.
Following the splintering of Discount, Mosshart disappeared to London, dropping off the grid long enough to completely reinvent herself. She returned to the musical fold not as an art-punk kid, but as a damaged supermodel exuding a confidence and voice that was years beyond her previous incarnation. It was as if she had left the Florida sun only to unearth an evil twin from the thick London fog.
Mosshart faked her death and got away with it, emerging as an entirely new and improved personality. As far as fleeing, reinvention, and pure escapism go, it would be hard to top this sort of transformation from homely duckling to a graceful, if damaged, swan. When she returned to the States in 2002 as the Kills she was an entirely different person—book-ended by partner Jamie Hince and a drum machine. It was inspiring: Exit the youthful punk-rock optimism, enter a Royal Trux'd nihilism of emptiness, drugs, and fucking the pain away. All this was capped by a slithering live show where Mosshart and Hince shared a mic and a level of desperate intimacy that led to deep fascination (Are they really going to fuck each other on the stage?) for anyone willing to watch and listen.
And people did both. The Kills became UK media darlings in the following years, a duo that kicked up a dust storm of celebrity and controversy—Hince dates Kate Moss, Mosshart now fronts the Dead Weather, playing the role of muse and bandmate to Jack White—that has stretched across three full-length recordings (2003's Keep on Your Mean Side, 2005's No Wow, and last year's Midnight Boom).
If Sid and Nancy were in the Chelsea Hotel with recording equipment instead of syringes and knives, you'd get Midnight Boom, a stumbling grasp at stability from a pair of lost souls. Hince and Mosshart trade barbed vocals, their formerly minimal instrumental backing showcasing a range not witnessed on previous albums. They may not have become a full-fledged rock band, but for once the Kills sound like something more than two shipwreck survivors left to a world of nothing but each other.
Midnight Boom is a desperate recording of simple rock 'n' roll, one that works masterfully on songs like the sullen, hand-clapped percussion of "Black Balloon," "Alphabet Pony," and the bombastic "Tape Song." The news is never good, but whatever message the Kills want delivered is received loud and clear—no need to send that letter.