King’s X: Ear Candy

earcandyI’ve been building up to this review with my recent run through the King’s X discography. This was the point where I left the band because I was incredibly disappointed with the album. Upon hearing that my good friend KEN thought this was a great album, I gave it another try many years after it came out, but my disappointment didn’t change. Now that Dig Me Out reviewed it, I’m giving it another chance.

I’m glad I did. Not because it’s great (it’s not), but because I can at least now hear what is good about it. First, though, here’s what I got right so many years ago. Everything’s quiet, muffled, and restrained on this album. It’s got one gear, and that’s kicked back. It ends up being very same-y. Laid back and monochromatic are not the reasons I go to King’s X. Now I can hear that a lot of this trouble lies in the production. There’s a spot in the middle of the third track, “Something,” where the guitars get more distorted and things crank up a notch, but only in timbre. There’s no corresponding crescendo, no speed up in the pace, and, worst of all, just no fullness of sound. Likewise, there’s a slew of relatively heavy tracks in the middle of the album, from “Looking For Love” to “67,” and while the songs are good, they just don’t rawk.

Once you get past those problems, though, you find there are some good songs. They’ve still got songwriting and performance chops, they’re just going with a bluesier, more roots-rock feel here. That’s a fine choice, and not an accident, but the choice to make the production reflect that choice, even for the parts of the songs that don’t call for that treatment, that’s just flat out a mistake. Furthermore, to enjoy this, you’ve got to overlook the silly song titles “(Thinking And Wondering) What I’m Gonna Do,” “Looking For Love,” “Life Goes By”) as well as things like the trudging repetitiveness of “A Box” and “Lies In The Sand (The Ballad Of…)” and enjoy what those songs can bring you. So, in an unusual twist for a roots album, this rewards closer listening far more than background listening. And as long as you don’t let the obvious flaws color your impression of the rest of the album, it’s pretty good.

Rating:
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Mix: “Picture”
– “The Train,” “(Thinking And Wondering) What I’m Gonna Do,” “Sometime,” “Looking For Love,” “Mississippi Moon,” “67,” “American Cheese (Jerry’s Pianto),” “Life Goes By”
– “A Box,” “Lies In The Sand (The Ballad Of…),” “Run,” “Fathers”
Filed Between: King’s X’s Dogman and KISW Rock 99.9 FM HFL4 sampler
Song Notes: After the jump
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King’s X: Dogman

dogmanFor a nice change of pace, here’s an album I don’t want to review because I don’t want to move on from it. Partly because the album is damned near perfect (take off the draggy “Flies And Blue Skies” and it would be five clowns) but partly because I know the next album in King’s X’s discography is Ear Candy, and that’s the last King’s X album I ever listened to because it was such a huge disappointment to me coming on the heels of King’s X and this disc.

Dogman is a pretty big departure from the rest of the band’s catalog. While they had been doing the drop-D tuning thing for a while, here they dive right into more of a full-on grunge feel. A less-bluesy Jerry Cantrell-style guitar is the centerpiece of the album, but the songs are rougher, rawer, not quite as soaringly constructed (if that makes sense) as their previous albums. This one just feels dirtier (song titles include “Black The Sky,” “Cigarettes” and “Go To Hell”), and in a really good, satisfying way. Like it hits your gut more than your head, though it’s cerebral as hell, too.

I’m not sure why this album wasn’t huge, because it’s got all the catchy, strong elements of its predecessors and does an adequate job of shedding the religious sheen that might have turned people off earlier in their discography. Maybe people thought they were jumping on the grunge bandwagon. I don’t think they were…the band has always said they were unhappy with the sound Sam Taylor gave them and wanted a heavier sound. (Notably, Brendan O’Brien, one of the banes of my existence based on his destruction of all that was good in Pearl Jam and Bruce Springsteen, produced this album. Probably his best output by far.) My guess is that by 1994 we were starting to see some grunge backlash, and besides, they just didn’t look like guitar-rock gods. Drummer Jerry Gaskill always looked like an aging Rush roadie, and Doug Pinnick, well, there aren’t a whole lot of really successful guitar-oriented bands fronted by a black man playing bass.

Fuck, though, this is such an amazing album.

Rating:
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Mix: “Black The Sky,” “Sunshine Rain,” “Complain,” “Go To Hell”
– “Dogman,” “Shoes,” “Pretend,” “Fool You,” “Don’t Care,” “Human Behavior,” “Cigarettes,” “Pillow,” “Manic Depression”
– “Flies And Blue Skies”
Filed Between: King’s X’s King’s X and Ear Candy
Song Notes: After the jump
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King’s X: King’s X

kingsxWho makes their fourth album their self-titled album and who puts the first single from that album ninth? King’s X, but who cares, because this album is freaking amazing from top to bottom. I bought this album back in the day, entirely based on MTV’s airplay of “Black Flag,” and it’s a totally awesome disc with no bad songs on it. I keep thinking things like that are going to happen if I just keep buying CDs. But it’s like I got spoiled and bought a ton of CDs back when most of them were awesome, and now that they’re not, well, it’s not just the convenience of digital files that made CDs obsolete. Somewhere along the line things started sucking.

The band is in peak form here. There’s nothing to complain about. Doug Pinnick’s voice is amazingly strong, and guitarist Ty Tabor’s solos are an asset as opposed to the liability they were on earlier albums. And the production is flawless. It’s kind of crazy that they parted ways with Sam Taylor after this album, since it sounds amazing. But if I do have one complaint, it’s that the music does get a little soft in parts (“Dream In My Life,” which ranges from super lame to super heavy is the perfect example of this), and they were reportedly unhappy that he could never make them as heavy on disc as they were live. But there is plenty of heavy on here.

Rating:
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Mix: “The World Around Me,” “Chariot Song”
– “Prisoner,” “The Big Picture,” “Lost In Germany,” “Black Flag,” “Ooh Song,” “Not Just For The Dead,” “Dream In My Life,” “Silent Wind”
– “What I Know About Love”
Filed Between: King’s X’s Faith Hope Love and Dogman
Song Notes: After the jump
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King’s X: Faith Hope Love

King's_X_Faith_Hope_LoveKing’s X fully arrives on their third album, with pretty much start-to-finish awesomeness. The guitar solos are no longer liabilities as they were on Gretchen Goes To Nebraska. The songs are tighter, faster, and all around even better

There’s plenty of Rush influence as they toy with rhythm patterns that don’t repeat and some very long jam songs. “Moanjam” is over six minutes and the title track is over nine. Not only that, they both work really well, as everything that’s said is interesting and fresh…the band don’t indulge to the point of boring their listener.

One of the things that’s always confused me is how resistant Doug Pinnick was to being labeled a Christian band. Now, I know that plenty of his lyrics do seem to question some of the central beliefs of Christianity, but here, on the album where they had their first big hit (“It’s Love” got a ton of MTV airplay, at least on shows like Headbanger’s Ball and 120 Minutes), there’s hardly any skepticism to go along with the adoration. Let’s take a trip through some of these songs, shall we?

  • I’ll Never Get Tired Of You – Probably the sappiest love song lyrics ever written, and it’s about God.
  • Moanjam – “I sing this song because of you/You’re the story”
  • I Can’t Help It – “So then a mark is left a feeling of some type of relief/And then the laughter comes reinforcing my belief”
  • Everywhere I Go – “Everywhere I go I see you”

And then there’s the pro-life (I wouldn’t say anti-choice, it seems very personal) song “Legal Kill,” and then you put a bible verse in the liner notes (“…the greatest of these is love”) and really…you cannot be surprised you get mistaken for a Christian band.

Best. Christian band. Ever. This album rocks.

Rating:
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Mix: “It’s Love”
– “We Are Finding Who We Are,” “The Fine Art Of Friendship,” “Mr. Wilson,” “Moanjam,” “Six Broken Soldiers,” “Talk To You,” “We Were Born To Be Loved,” “Faith Hope Love”
– “I’ll Never Get Tired Of You,” “I Can’t Help It,” “Everywhere I Go,” “Legal Kill”
Filed Between: King’s X’s Out Of The Silent Planet and King’s X
Song Notes: After the jump
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King’s X: Gretchen Goes To Nebraska

Gretchen Goes To NebraskaAnother great record from King’s X. This is the only one of their first six I hadn’t heard before, and even then I recognized some of the songs. I am not sure how many times I saw them in concert, but it must have been quite a few because “Over My Head” was very familiar. And, yeah, I know it was a single, but I don’t think that’s the reason…I think I just picked it up live.

The strongest and the weakest part of this album is guitarist Jerry Gaskill. Strongest in that his chunky, full guitar riffs are about 70% of the awesomeness of the songs themselves. Weakest because there’s a guitar solo on most songs (if not all of them), and that’s just not his strong suit. I know guitar solos were de rigeur in 1989, but it’s not like the band was afraid to go against convention in other areas. The songs could have benefited from a bridge or something in that spot, but as it is those solos are pretty much all momentum-suckers. The exception is “Send A Message,” an uptempo rocker that doesn’t slow down for the solo. Not a coincidence that’s the only track I’ve got listed as a mix CD candidate.

In the end, this boils down to mostly awesome guitar-playing and song-writing from start to finish, with some momentum-sucking parts and songs thrown in that don’t ruin the overall awesomeness.

Rating:
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Mix: “Send A Message”
– “Out Of The Silent Planet,” “Over My Head,” “Summerland,” “Everybody Knows A Little Bit Of Something,” “I’ll Never Be The Same,” “Mission,” “Fall On Me”
– “The Difference (In The Garden Of St. Anne’s-On-The-Hill),” “Pleiades”
Song Notes: After the jump Continue reading

King’s X: Out Of The Silent Planet

I started this trek through King’s X’s catalog because Dig Me Out podcast is going to review the band’s sixth album, Ear Candy and I’m kinda OCD. So I started listening to it and my first thoughts were on how familiar it sounded. I figured the band must have really borrowed heavily from these songs for their later releases, which I had. But it turns out I have this CD, too. Go figure. #MusicNerdProblems

This is a ridiculously good debut album. It’s obvious these guys had paid their dues before putting it together. The songs are all expertly crafted, catchy, well-layered progressive hard rock. They sound a lot like a less silly Galactic Cowboys (a much younger band also from Texas that they would tour with when I was in high school). In fact, you can hear how they influenced a lot of progressive bands in the decade that would follow…it’s like, even though Rush had a few good albums after this, this is where Rush should have gone.

The only complaint I have is that it’s missing a je ne sais quoi. I can’t find anything specific to criticize, but things are a little bit too sludgy/ploddy to excite me for more than parts of a song. They would somewhat publicly ditch Sam Taylor, the producer of their first four albums, stating that he couldn’t capture their live sound on record, and that may be them hearing the same problems I am. Given the excellent content, it’s hard for me to give this less than 4.5 clowns, but since the band themselves were unhappy with the production, let me use that to justify a half-clown demerit.

Rating:

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– “In The New Age,” “Goldilox,” “Power Of Love,” “Wonder,” “Sometimes,” What Is This?,” “Far, Far Away,” “Shot Of Love,” “Visions”
– “King”
Filed Between: King Can (Maximum Power Super Loud) and King’s X’s Faith Hope Love
Song Notes: After the jump
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