Complete studio albums (and more!), part 8
KING’S X – Ear Candy (1996 Atlantic)
This is actually the album that sparked this review series in the first place. I had to re-rip it to my PC. Enamoured, I forged on with an entire series of King’s X, because they deserve it!
By the time King’s X hit album #6, any hope of them being a mainstream success was in the distant past. 1994’s Dogman was an artistic triumph, and considerably heavier than past albums, but still nothing. King’s X even played the noteworthy, critically acclaimed opening set at Woodstock ’94 (more on that next time), to no avail.
Ear Candy was their last album for Atlantic and I don’t know if it was record company pressure or simply natural creativity, but it was different for the band yet again. The heavy tunnel-vision sound of Dogman was severely toned down, in favour of melodic composition. Canadian hitmaker Arnold Lanni was on board for production, his only outing with King’s X. (The Canadian connection was manager Ray Danniels who was handling King’s X for a brief time.) Even guitarist Ty Tabor had stepped back up to the microphone, after being notably absent on Dogman‘s lead vocals. Some fans naturally rejected some of these changes. For others, Ear Candy was a high water mark. The 90’s were a confusing time!
This reviewer is in the high water mark category. Although Ear Candy eschews progressive rock tendencies in favour of catchy tunes, I don’t think the end result was a bad thing.
“Step up and step aboard, your seat is to the left. Leave all your bags and tighten up your metal belt.” That voice is Ty Tabor’s and what better way to usher in his vocals with the first song on the album? “The Train” is a duet between he and Doug Pinnick who sings on the choruses. Classic King’s X trademarks are in place: harmonies, sweet 60’s melodies, hard guitars, and soul. The train is departing on a journey called Ear Candy, and it is a welcoming song. Continuing with the 60’s vibe, “(Thinking and Wondering) What I’m Gonna Do” is sweet and summery. Acoustic guitars, tabla, and Doug’s soulful throat are the focus. Drummer Jerry Gaskill refuses to play anything simple, and so his drums and percussion are spare but unorthodox. Backwards Tabor guitars add to the psychedelic trip.
One of the draws to King’s X has to be Doug’s 8 and 12 basses. “Sometime” (another Doug song) has some of the baddest, lowest, most ass-rumbling bass you’ve ever heard. You have to love the sound of those big phat strings shakin’. Mid-tempo and sweet, “Sometime” is hard enough but with those Beatles-like harmonies.
There was one single released from this album, the very rare “A Box”. (This single had a bonus track called “Freedom” that is missing the LeBrain HQ rock library.) A brilliant selection for a single, “A Box” has that “Goldilox” sound from the first King’s X album. Pinnick had been dealing with his own personal issues and you can hear this in the words. Also worth noting: the drum sound. Arnold Lanni has a knack for finding a killer snare drum sound. Just listen to Our Lady Peace’s first album Naveed. Jerry’s drums have never sounded better than they do on Ear Candy. That snare just snaps! Then “Looking For Love” blasts. Doug is not seething in anger, but you can hear it between the lines. “Religion burned me at the stake,” and “I guess I lost my faith,” sings the once-devout Christian. You can also hear it in the tempo; straining at the lead. Then, following “Looking For Love” is possibly the album highlight…possibly. Because next is Ty’s “Mississippi Moon”, which is impossible to hate. Ty sometimes writes these pleasant, 60’s-pop-like songs in his solo material, and with King’s X. The layered vocals are like a little sugar on top. Just delightful. The only stumble is “67”, which is plenty chunky but not memorable. The freakout guitar noise outro is pretty cool though.
That sounds like a side closer, and the next song “Lies in the Sand (The ballad of…)” would work nicely as a mellow start to a second side. Ty ballads are sometimes very special, and “Lies in the Sand” is special indeed. His earnest singing and playing are basically the song; the other two guys take a step back and just let the song pulse. Things pick up again with “Run”, with Doug sounding cast-down and dejected, but bouncing back again. The pain also runs through “Father”. “My brother’s on crack, my sister’s a wreck, our mother she tried, our fathers are lies.” But the message is clear: “Every one of us loves every one of us.” Blood is thicker than water.
Jerry Gaskill takes a rare lead vocal on the ballad “American Cheese (Jerry’s Pianto)”. The 60’s are recalled once again with a very Beatles-like piano pop ballad. This sets up “Picture”, possibly the most upbeat pop rock moment on Ear Candy. It has a drive to it, and instrumental integrity, which takes it levels high and above most examples of pop rock. Doug sounds happy, and the band rock with glee. It’s a great precursor to “Life Going By”, the finale. It has a quality that sounds like a bookend to “The Train” at the start of the album. Tabor weaves a bright tapestry of acoustic and chiming electric guitars, and also takes the lead vocal for this last song. Layers of harmonies take us out on a sweet, soulful note.
What an album. What’s not to like? Fear not the pop, for King’s X took it back to heavy for 1998’s Tape Head….
Shortly after Ear Candy, progressive rock fans who craved a little more got their wish partly fulfilled. Doug Pinnick did an excellent guest appearance on the hella-cool song “Lines in the Sand”, from Dream Theater‘s Falling Into Infinity album from 1997. Doug sang accompanying vocals with James LaBrie, lending the song an additional edge. A 10 minute long-bomber, “Lines in the Sand” definitely supplied a taste of the heavy complex rock that fans may have missed. Even if Doug was just a small part of it, he was an integral part.
KING’S X review series:
Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet (1988)
Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)
Part 3 – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)
Part 4 – Faith Hope Love by King’s X (1990)
Part 5 – “Junior’s Gone Wild” (from 1991’s Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey soundtrack)
Part 6 – King’s X (1992)
Part 7 – Dogman (1994) + bonus “Pillow” promo single review