Gretchen Goes to Nebraska

REVIEW: King’s X – Best of King’s X (1997)


Complete studio albums (and more!), part 9

Scan_20151021KING’S X – Best of King’s X (1997 Atlantic)

Alas, it was inevitable.  After six stunningly good albums, but none of them gold, in 1997 Atlantic dropped King’s X.  In the mid-90’s it’s amazing that King’s X hung around as long as they did.  Many labelmates has long since been dumped, or broke up.  King’s X did not break up, but instead continued to work on their own, self-producing a new album.  Atlantic meanwhile prepared the calculable “best of” package for release.  Whenever a band gets dropped from a label, a “best of” is bound to follow.  It’s a law of science.

It’s a pretty straightforward release.  Chronologically, you get most of the major singles and hits from all six albums.  Then you get the three requisite unreleased songs.  Finally, a 10 minute live blowout from Woodstock ’94, previously unreleased.  In an unusual touch of quality for a release like this, Ty Tabor himself remastered all the tracks for the album.

We already took a close look at most of these songs earlier in the series, and there are no real duds.  The CD is weighted too heavily to the later albums, leaving Silent Planet and Gretchen under-represented with only four songs between them.  Hearing “King” opening the album is perfect, and the inclusion of “Pleiades” earns respect.  The other two tunes, “Summerland” and “Goldilox” are awesome but predictable inclusions.  The self-titled album and Dogman are represented by two tracks each.  We could have done with more Dogman.  “Shoes”, for example, or “Pretend”.  Three songs from this set come from the more commercial Ear Candy.  Again, you can’t really criticize the choices too much, because all the songs are great.  How do you squeeze more in?

Well, one way would be not including the unreleased songs, but these are record company bait to entice fans to shell out for it.  The three studio cuts are self-produced demos from 1996.  Appropriate to that era of the band, these are more commercial sounding than typical King’s X.  The production is not lush, but they have a lively quality.  “Sally” is nothing to write home about, but it’s a concise King’s X pop rocker with plenty of cool noodling by Ty.  Both “Sally” and the next song, “April Showers” feature fuzzy wah-wah guitar, always a treat.  Doug Pinnick sings the funky “April Showers”, which sounds a bit more King’s X.  Possibly the best song is the sparse ballad “Lover”, also sung by Doug.  It just depends on whether you prefer the mellow hippie sounds of “Lover” or the funk of “April Showers”!

The closing piece of the album was a surprising but important inclusion, and that is the live version of “Over My Head” from their opening set at Woodstock ’94.  This 10-minute track features a passionate singing rant by Doug Pinnick. He has often spoken about his difficult upbringing, and how he never heard the words “I love you” as a child. “This is a song about my grandma…she raised me from a child…she was a very religious lady…she went to church every night…she read her Bible all the time…” begins the painful rant. It still gives me chills, but it has a positive note.  If you have kids, make sure they know that you love them, more than anything in the whole wide world.

Yes it’s an odd way to take up 10 minutes of a “best of” CD, but it had to be on here. It was a historic moment for this band. Anybody in the crowd that day who wasn’t completely blasted on drugs would remember that moment forever.

Opening up Woodstock ’94 should have propelled King’s X into the stratosphere. They just couldn’t catch a damn break.  They couldn’t even be given a decent album cover for their own damned Best Of!

4/5 stars

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
Part 8 – Ear Candy (1996)

REVIEW: King’s X – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)


Complete studio albums (and more!), part 3

KING’S X – Kings of the Absurd (split 1990 Metal Crash live bootleg with Faith No More)

Live bootlegs vary in quality, but usually have one thing in common: they are almost always interesting.  Kings of the Absurd, a split live bootleg from Italy, raises a curious question.

Why put Faith No More and King’s X together on one CD?

No reason.

The King’s X set is from London at the Astoria; Faith No More’s from a festival set in Italy many months later.   It’s an odd pairing, with no common musical denominator.  If anything, both bands share critical acclaim, but that’s about it.  Why are they together on one CD?

No reason!

Absolutely no reason.

The Faith No More portion of this CD will be reviewed at a later time, probably as part of a Faith No More review series.  For now we’ll just examine the four songs presented by King’s X, which, believe me, are enough to melt your face off without the help of Mike Patton and co.  I found this CD in the racks of the used CD store in which I started working, in early 1995.  Loving both bands, and stickered at just $11.99, this was an easy winner once you figured in my staff discount.  I was just lucky to have snagged it before Thomas, also a massive Faith No More and King’s X fan.

“What is This?” is the only song lifted from their debut album Out of the Silent Planet.  The original set was 10 songs, and this was the second, but it works as an opener as well.  The heavy groove and the slick backing vocals of Ty Tabor and Jerry Gaskill are intact.  Doug is more impassioned live than on album, which is the way it is with any good soul singer.  Doug’s take on “What is This?” is very different from the album; he just lets the vocal come out as it does.  Even on this crappy sounding CD, you can hear that the bass is hella-heavy, and that Jerry Gaskill is one of the most underrated drummers you will ever lay ears on.

Doug addresses the crowd between songs.  “We’re going to try to do almost everything that we know tonight for you,” he teases, with no idea that these words would end up on a live bootleg with only four songs!  Next (and the next song played that night) is “Out of the Silent Planet” from their then-current Gretchen Goes to Nebraska album.  The complexity of the backing vocals doesn’t seem to present them a problem.  It’s clear that this is one hell of a trio, as if you were in any doubt.  The CD doesn’t have “Sometimes”, the next song played, but instead goes to “Summerland”, also from Gretchen.  The poor sound hampers the song slightly, since it’s lighter and doesn’t slam as hard as the others.  Doug is again outstanding, not only one of the greatest singers in rock but also a top notch bassist.  “Fall On Me” (Gretchen) ends this short set.  It was a great song on album, but live it’s just as amazing.  Doug’s lungs sound as if diesel-powered.

The fact that King’s X only got tacked onto the end of a Faith No More bootleg CD is sadly not unexpected.  They got boned by the music business, so why not by bootleggers too?  The whole set is out there, and it sounds like an amazing show.  Just check out this article and the comments section, over at our friends Every Record Tells a Story.  A few readers were there that night.

You gotta give King’s X a 5/5 stars for a set this hot, but Metal Crash get 0/5 stars for the CD

KING’S X review series:

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet

Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska

REVIEW: King’s X – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)


Complete studio albums, part 2

Scan_20151018KING’S X – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989 Atlantic)

Only a year — one measly year! — after debuting with one of the most dearly beloved first albums in memory, King’s X summoned the muse for a second time.  They went back into the studio with Sam Taylor to repeat the magic.  Repeat it they did, with their original blend of influences and talents, but without backing off one inch in compromise. They did make a couple corny but cool music videos, although the rarity of their airplay must have frustrated everyone involved.

“Over My Head” surely made the band look and sound cool. Their souls-meets-metal-meets whatever they want vibe is concisely summed up in under five minutes. “Grandma used to sing, grandma used to sing, every night when she was prayin'” says Doug, opening up old wounds that he would still be singing about for years. But it’s not dark; instead, the music is as uplifting as a church choir. But only if the church band featured Jimi Hendrix and the Isley Brothers.

Production is improved on Gretchen, and diversity has expanded once again. “Out of the Silent Planet” (the title track for the last album!) opens with sitar, but before too long a very Rush-like riff is enveloped by the lush psychedelic harmony vocals that Doug, Ty and Jerry create so naturally. Clearly the band did not take summer holidays that year because the growth is audible. Layers of guitars, sitars and unknown sounds create a swirl of purple haze. And listen to Doug’s chiming bass on the outro. What’s that you hear? Yeah, it sounds like the bass outro to “Jeremy” to me, too. Jeff Ament of Pearl Jam once said that “King’s X invented grunge”. I don’t think that’s true although it probably indicates that some smart guys in Seattle had good taste in music. I think Doug Pinnick invented the way that he and Ament play bass. If you hear Pearl Jam occasionally in King’s X, I think that’s the part that was tapped by Jeff Ament via Doug Pinnick.

Gretchen may be challenging like Silent Planet was, but King’s X try to make it easy for you to climb aboard the train. The light melodic picking in “Summerland” sound enticing so just come on in. Doug’s soulful wailing brings the clouds but Ty’s harmonies blow ’em back away. “Summerland” is a rock triumph, possessing drama with melody and integrity in a flawless mix. Back to church again on “Everybody Knows a Little Bit of Something” — but only briefly as we are now on funky ground. Accelerated for action, “Everybody Knows a Little Bit of Something” is a pulse-pounder not to be missed. King’s X can do no wrong, especially when combining disparate elements in new ways. Another side of King’s X is the acoustic one often visited by Ty Tabor, and that’s “The Difference”. The setting feels like a chilly fall day but King’s X paint pictures that allow you to see your own images. That’s the beauty of the music.

“I’ll Never be the Same” is more familiar King’s X territory. Never keeping it simple, never making it inaccessible must have been the motto. Their pool of influences seems to come out slightly different each time. Church organ (by Sam Taylor) makes its debut on “Mission”, an appropriate place for it, but that’s a bluff. “Mission” is actually a metallic assault on televangelists. “What is the mission of the preacher man?” asks Doug in an impassioned wail. “Some are true, Some do lie,” he warns. “Fall on Me” will then take your head off with some of the rockingest King’s X on the album. If a record label was looking for an accessible single, here it is. I guess this band really was just too smart for radio, like with the cosmic “Pleiades”.

Far off in the field I see a castle,
Today the people gather at the pole,
He tried to tell us all the world was spherical,
They burned his body but not his soul.

Keep in mind this is a band that is often lumped in with Christian rock!  But what about the riff?  Imagine the love child of Ritchie Blackmore and Jimmy Page.  They had a baby and named it “Pleiades”.

Pinnick brings the soul back on “Don’t Believe It (Easier Said than Done)”.  “This is not the end of the road,” he sings and he’s right — even though it is track 10, it’s not the end.  King’s X beefed up Gretchen with 12 tracks, a rare bounty in 1989.  But this was not a normal band.  These was an inspired trio with thoughts and feelings to get off their collective chests.  “Send a Message” keeps the pace upbeat but not straight; there have to be some twists and turns.  Ty then takes the final track with “The Burning Down” and a mellow ballad.  Floyd meets Rush meets King’s X, and it’s over.

The first two King’s X albums boasted rich and impressive album art.  Gretchen is the best of the pair.  Now that’s an album cover; the LP at least anyway.  On CD it’s much harder to appreciate.  No matter since it’s the music that counts.  It’s rare for a band to grow from an incredible album like Silent Planet to something even bigger like Gretchen.  That’s exactly what King’s X did, even though they did it in obscurity.

5/5 stars