Revisiting Two Summer Classics
King's X Dogman (1994) and Ear Candy (1996)
If you've never heard the music of Texas trio King's X, the first thing you have to do is completely disregard anything you might have read about them in the rock press.
Most critics, hamstrung by feeble imaginations, laziness and pure spite, are fucked to try to describe something as uncategorizably eclectic and brilliant as King's X. So they just throw a "prog rock" tag on the band and call it a day. And because King's X's lyrics often deal with issues of spirituality, the critics like to throw the word "christian" into the mix, as well. How idiotic.
Anyone who calls King's X something as stupid and belittling as "christian prog metal" clearly has not even listened to the band -- more likely, they're just repeating something they've seen written many times before. Regurgitating received wisdom is always a safe bet in rock "journalism." And you know how it is -- if a piece of misinformation gets repeated enough times, people will start to accept it as fact (just ask Karl Rove!). For this reason, King's X remain terribly misunderstood.
At the end of the day, this band is about songs. The common denominator of the members' combined influences is the Beatles. You can hear it in their phenomenal knack for great melodies and gorgeous three-part harmonies. King's X's music is hard rock that is steeped in the blues, heavy metal, gospel, psychedelic rock (as in Sgt. Pepper's) and pure pop. The songs for the most part are concise and very straightforward. Believe me, these guys couldn't give a rat's ass about "prog."
King's X also happen to possess one of the greatest rock singers of all time. Doug Pinnick, the mohawked, black-skinned, bass playing frontman of King's X brings pure soul to the band, being heavily influenced by people like Aretha Franklin and Sly Stone. What an unbelievable voice this man has -- and every note is unadulterated conviction and sincerity. A closeted homosexual for most of his life, Pinnick's lyrics reflect the conflict of a man trying to reconcile his sexuality with the repressive Southern Baptist values of his upbringing in the Deep South. This guy's got more issues than an attic full of old National Geographics (sorry dUg!), and it only makes him a more riveting, fascinating performer.
Guitarist and sometime lead vocalist Ty Tabor may be the most underrated rock guitar player ever. Hundreds of guitarists have fruitlessly tried to copy his tone over the years. Yes, the man is a virtuoso, but his playing is grounded in no-bullshit Texas blues. He always plays the right thing and it's always something new. And his pure, Lennon-esque singing voice offsets Pinnick's perfectly.
Jerry Gaskill plays the drums with an incredible amount of power, behind-the-beat groove and a huge dynamic scale. He's equal parts Bonham and Buddy Rich. His kick drum locks in with Pinnick's growling bass to create one of the most awe-inspiring and immediately-recognizable rhythm sections in rock. Jerry's one of those rare drummers whose style is so well-realized that you know it's him even when he's playing all by himself. He's also contributing 1/3 of those gorgeous vocal harmonies.
When this band came on the scene in the late eighties, they made everyone else look like a bunch of chumps. Immediately respected and worshipped by musicians everywhere, from Chic's Nile Rodgers to Led Zeppelin's Robert Plant, King's X sounded like the future. Their first four albums, all produced by then-manager Sam Taylor, are stone cold classics, brimming with seemingly limitless potential. So why wasn't the mainstream catching on?
By the mid-90s, bands that been profoundly influenced by King's X (most notably Alice In Chains) were reaping fortunes on the groundwork the Texas trio had laid. It's hard to imagine that decade without all the detuned guitars (perhaps the most transparent King's X ripoff was Collective Soul's soulless "Shine"). But King's X themselves were still an obscurity.
Sam Taylor, as it turns out, had been stealing from the band for years, and they acrimoniously split in 1993. The album they released the following year, Dogman, hints at the bitterness and growing frustration in the still-struggling band. And I gotta say, the music does not suffer for it.
Produced by Brenden O'Brien (the alt-rock prducer of the 90s and an avowed King's X freak) Dogman positively rages with angst, frustration, and some serious soul-searching, as Doug Pinnick delivers some of the most hair-raisingly heartfelt vocal performances of his career.
The music is unbelievably heavy, sometimes bordering on ugly. The band had been cheated and mistreated, and no one could have deserved it less. Listen to "Flies and Blue Skies," "Black the Sky" and "Fool You" for evidence of where their heads were at ("walk in the big parade, learn just what to say; they will all try to fool you; don't believe anything, I'm your everything; they will all try to fool you...").
King's X delivered an absolutely electrifying and emotionally charged set at Woodstock '94 that summer -- everyone who witnessed the event insists the band stole the night -- but MTV never aired their performance. I've seen video tape of the show and it turned my guts to water.
Dogman's follow-up, 1996's Ear Candy, sounds almost like an exhale by comparison. The band seem resigned to their fate, but the music is as sharp as ever. There are some achingly beautiful songs on this album. Pinnick's "lost my faith" confessional "Looking for Love" is one of the most brutally honest things he's ever written. Meanwhile, "Picture"'s ode to forgiveness and reconciliation is surprisingly moving.
Ty gets some gems the mix: "Mississippi Moon" is nothing less than guitar pop perfection and "Life Going By" has all the delicacy and yearning, plangent beauty that makes King's X so much more than a mere hard rock band.
Labels: King's X