Sam Taylor

REVIEW: King’s X – King’s X (1992)


Complete studio albums (and more!), part 6

Scan_20151104KING’S X – King’s X (1992 Atlantic)

The end of an era: the self-titled album.  When you self-title a record, it’s usually meant to be a statement.  Who knows if King’s X knew that theirs would be the end of the classic era of the band?  Tensions with producer/manager Sam Taylor were increasing and this would be their last collaboration.

King’s X, the album, seems to hone in on songwriting.  There are no long bombers, just short and taut King’s X songs.  “The World Around Me” exemplifies this.  The main ingredients are intact: Doug’s soulful but pained lead vocals mixed with the lush backing of the other two, the heavy but uniquely constructed riffs, and the diverse assortment of influences.  This song, and the next (“Prisoner”) get in and get out quick, delivering the necessary hooks with integrity.  They don’t spend time noodling or meandering.  The songs are more direct this time, without selling out.  You still can’t mistake what band this is.  There is only one band that sounds like King’s X, and that’s due to a unique vocal blend, and playing that sounds like no one else.

“The Big Picture”, the first ballad, doesn’t sound all too different from the Faith Hope Love material.  Good song, but a retread.  Then we’re “Lost In Germany”, with Doug and Ty Tabor sharing vocals, but this is one song that annoys more than it entertains.  Something about that chorus.  “Germany, lost in Germany!”  Maybe it’s the fact that my old boss at the Record Store used to make fun of this song, or maybe it’s just corny.  It has a tricky little Steve Vai-esque guitar lick, but I don’t want to be “Lost in Germany” any more.  Having found the autobahn, we get off next at the “Chariot Song”.  Accelerating breakneck, this song kicks ass.  Time signatures and keys change left right and center, but it’s a cohesively awesome song.  All I dislike are the self referencing lyrics: “Out of the planet comes Gretchen with faith, hope and love.” You’ll love the psychedelic Beatles section in the middle. Fave tune “Ooh Song” blows out the speakers. The stuttery riff and dark melodies hint at where King’s X were headed. “Ooh Song” and “Chariot Song” are a whopper of a one-two punch, 100% King’s X, no selling out.

“Not Just for the Dead” is uplifting, with hints of piano and sitar. It has a proud, anthemic quality before it too ventures into psychedelia. An album highlight for sure. Then, “What I Know About Love” (the closest thing to a long bomber on this album) has a long Ty Tabor solo section; very cool. “Black Flag” was the lead single but never a favourite of mine. Like “Lost in Germany”, something about the chorus just isn’t happening. Seeing Doug flying around in his underoos, in the music video, is entertaining however. There are also some King’s X puppets — somebody made actual puppets of the guys for props in this video. I sure hope somebody hung onto those!

Winding down the album, Ty’s mellow “Dream in my Life” just kind of sits there. It doesn’t have the drama I crave in King’s X. Fortunately, the closer “Silent Wind” kicks ass completely. The verses and chorus are equally excellent. This is a powerhouse of a song, and though a closer, could have made a much better single than the two they picked!

King’s X created another solid album, but for the first time it felt like they had not progressed. King’s X feels like an amalgam of previous King’s X albums, and maybe that was the point. Still one of the greatest rock bands of all time, they spun their tires a little here. But change was afoot.

4/5 stars

DOGMAN FRONTThe only King’s X album I reviewed prior to this series was Dogman (1994), and that review is the next chapter in this series. You can read it by clicking here now!

As stated above, Kings’s X, the album, was the end of an era. Dogman would be dramatically different. There were no lead vocals by Ty Tabor, and they had gotten much, much heavier. Putting the emphasis more on the groove, and installing Brendan O’Brien at the console, King’s X delivered a punishing sledge of an album. Dogman rates 4.9999~/5 stars, just shy of a full 5/5. Check out the full review for that.  Also previously published is a mini-review for a promotional CD single for the track “Pillow” from Dogman, complete with two then-unreleased live bonus tracks.   Click ’em both.


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)

REVIEW: King’s X – “Junior’s Gone Wild” (1991)


Complete studio albums (and more!), part 5

KING’S X – “Junior’s Gone Wild” (1991 Interscope, from the Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey movie soundtrack)

With Faith Hope Love creating a little bit of a buzz, 1991 coulda been the year for King’s X to finally break.  Meanwhile in Hollywood, a Canadian fellow named Keanu Reeves re-teamed up with his buddy Alex Winter to star in Bill & Ted’s Bogus Journey.  Many rock fans worldwide had enjoyed the prior adventures of Bill & Ted.  They liked cool bands and got to hang out with George Carlin.  Not to mention, the movies had soundtracks.  Extreme, for example, had some exposure thanks to an appearance on the first movie’s album.  Then somehow, King’s X landed a song on the Bogus Journey soundtrack.  Maybe because the movie soundtrack came out on Interscope, owned by Warner, also the parent company of King’s X’s label Atlantic.

The soundtrack CD is actually really good.   Kiss, Faith No More, Megadeth, Primus, plus quality tracks from Winger, Slaughter and Richie Kotzen.  Surprisingly, one of the weakest songs was the one by King’s X!

“Junior’s Gone Wild”, barely three minutes long, is one of the most unremarkable songs King’s X have done.  You can’t pinpoint what exactly doesn’t work.  On paper, it should.  A stuttering riff, Doug Pinnick’s impassioned singing, and the trademark lush King’s X cloud of backing vocals:  it’s all right there, wrapped up in a bow for 3:09.  Yet it’s bland and forgettable.  Was this the first crack in King’s X armour?  Or did they just send a throw-away outtake out for the soundtrack?  If so, perhaps doing so was a mistake.  The movie made almost $40 million, doubling its budget.

In another weird twist, “Junior’s Gone Wild” also wound up on the B-side to a Kiss CD single, “God Gave Rock & Roll to You II“.  With that kind of exposure, don’t you just wish King’s X had put an amazing song out instead?  Meanwhile back on the soundtrack CD, I was being blown away by this new young kid, Richie Kotzen, with an incredibly soulful voice and hot space-blues licks.  Kotzen succeeded in competing with the big boys on the CD, and so did Faith No More.  King’s X fumbled the ball.

2/5 stars

KING’S X review series:

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet
Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska
Part 3 – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)
Part 4 – Faith Hope Love by King’s X

REVIEW: King’s X – Faith Hope Love (1990)


Complete studio albums (and more!), part 4

KING’S X – Faith Hope Love by King’s X (1990 Atlantic)

This is where I hopped on board the King’s X train.  It was the quirky video for the irresistible pop rocker “It’s Love”.  It wasn’t the first accessible King’s X single, but it was the first I ever had the chance to hear.  And it was instant.  It was an immediate, “Ah!  So this is King’s X!  I have to get this.”  And I did.  Before then, I had only read about them in magazines.  Their cool cover art, striking album titles, and brilliant reviews had them on my radar.

“It’s Love”, written and vocalized by Ty Tabor, emphasizes the melodic aspects of the band.  They always utilized Beatles-like harmonies over chunky guitars.  This mixture was perfected for the charts on “It’s Love”, and it did make a minor dent.

Although “It’s Love” might be the most instantaneous song on the album Faith Hope Love (the band’s third), it’s not the most impressive.  Not even close.  And that’s saying something!

With Faith Hope Love, there was a downshift in intensity but not in quality.  The album is overall a little less edged, but just as challenging.  Indeed, the title track is almost 10 minutes of swirling rock, with dual lead vocalists and startling instrumental integrity.  There is also a song called “We Were Born to Be Loved” with smoking playing, false endings, and enough technical chops to satisfy the most ardent fan.

King’s X have never taken the easy road, lyrically or musically.  “Legal Kill” is abstract but can be interpreted to be about a few sensitive issues in today’s society.  It’s not preachy:  “I only know what I believe, the rest is so absurd to me.”  It’s a beautiful song, a peaceful acoustic ballad.  A song like this could have been a hit for anyone, except King’s X it seems.

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Other accessible rock songs include the love song “I’ll Never Get Tired of You”, a beautiful sentiment.  The “Fine Art of Friendship” combines the vocals of Doug Pinnick and Ty Tabor in that patented blend, always so tasty.  Then there is the slow, dark ballad “Everywhere I Go” by Doug.   There aren’t any weak songs on Faith Hope Love, although I find the softies “Mr. Wilson” and “Six Broken Soldiers” (vocal debut of drummer Jerry Gaskill) to be not quite as amazing as the rest of this stunning album.

The centerpiece is “Moanjam”.  By the opening rumble of Doug’s bass and the intense tempo, you might think it’s a Motorhead song.  Proving their diversity, “Moanjam” combines smoking metal riffing, lush harmonies, and Doug’s unmistakable soul singing.  You could put “Moanjam” on an album 10 times and it would still be a hell of an album!  With subtle Christian lyrics (“I sing this song because of You, You’re the glory”), you can headbang to it without thinking too much about the words.   In fact, doing so is quite an enjoyable experience.  It’s also a blast to air-drum to Jerry’s speedy parts; just be sure to catch your breath!

Although Faith Hope Love was their most accessible album yet, in many ways it really wasn’t.  It was over an hour long, containing two long-bombers.   The arrangements are still challenging, and still uniquely King’s X.  There is nobody out there who plays guitar like Ty Tabor does, and nobody who can sing like Doug Pinnick.  Faith Hope Love is a completely unafraid album.  Unfortunately it might also have been their last chance to grab the brass ring.   With grunge around the corner, bands like King’s X were hastily pushed aside.  What a shame.  This record could have been their Revolver.

5/5 stars

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KING’S X review series:

Part 1 – Out of the Silent Planet
Part 2 – Gretchen Goes to Nebraska
Part 3 – Kings of the Absurd (split bootleg with Faith No More)

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

REVIEW: King’s X – Out of the Silent Planet (1988)



Join us for a serious look at every King’s X studio album!…and more.

Scan_20151018KING’X – Out of the Silent Planet (1988 Atlantic)

The Texas Trio, the soul-bringers of progressive rock…call ’em what you want (I just did, I made those two titles up), King’s X are too important for you to ignore any longer.  If you have been aboard the King’s X train already, then you know what I am about to tell you.  If not, then realize that this band has been tragically ignored for aeons.  Since 1983 in fact, as Sneak Preview, a glammy rock band who released one record before changing direction and name to King’s X.  Even though Sneak Preview were certainly not hinting that there was more beneath the surface than just some good sounding rock and roll, it was obvious that they had the ability to write and to play.  They made a few music videos, and “Linda” depicts them delivering hooks more typical of Bon Jovi or Van Hagar.

Supposedly, the band were not happy with the way the Sneak Preview album turned out. Of 1000 copies made, half were reportedly destroyed on purpose. Today copies sell for over $200.

Newly christened as King’s X, the band and producer/manager Sam Taylor went into the studio for Megaforce, a division of Atlantic, the label that launched Led Zeppelin. They emerged with one of the most startling and important debut albums of the 1980’s, Out of the Silent Planet.  Starkly original and different, King’s X took the critics by storm.  If only the record buying masses followed their lead.

According to esteemed scholar and Sausagefester Scottie Geffros, “From Out of the Silent Planet right up to Tape Head (1998), there is so much good stuff that the world in general should be embarrassed that ‘music fans’ never caught on to the greatness that is King’s X.” Adds fellow ‘Fester Johnny Cheddar, “I remember the first time listening to Out of the Silent Planet with Dr. Dave…we had been on a music buying mission, and he found an elusive vinyl copy; going cheap if I recall. It was a hard album to come by in those days. I was amazed to hear such a heavy riffy metal sound, but without the sinister vibe that goes with it.”

Starting with a dramatic space rock intro, “In the New Age” soon introduces the core King’s X sound:  The soul, the dual vocal talents of Doug Pinnick and Ty Tabor, and their unique cross of influences.  Ty and Doug have voices on opposite sides of the rock spectrum.  Ty sings high and clean with a hint of Lennon, and Doug goes deep to the howling limits of his soul.  Their trio format, with Jerry Gaskill (another talented singer in his own right) on the drums still allowed them to create expansive rock.  They were not writing anything simple or pandering anymore; “In the New Age” boasts daring changes and a progressive bent that major labels weren’t usually hawking.

The central song might be the ballad “Goldilox”.  On this track, the band have married a knack for a good pop song without compromising their integrity.  “Golidlox” is a spring-like, bright song of hope.  Doug Pinnick has a voice to be envied by anyone, with power and the ability to evoke the classic soul singers of an era gone by.  The other two back him to form a lush curtain of slightly psychedelic harmonies.

“Power of Love” has a pop rock chorus, but punched up by the hard hitting band.  Vocally, this is a soul anthem.  Musically, it’s anthemic rock and roll, good for head-banging or banana-dancing.  It’s up to you — and that’s the “Power of Love”!   Although hard rock songs not unlike this were getting played on the radio, King’s X were probably too smart for radio.  “Power of Love” melds seamlessly into “Wonder”, a song about divisions between us.  “There’s a wall between us, a partition of sorts.”  Yup, too smart for radio.  Chunky like good peanut butter, and still fresh today, “Wonder” is indeed still a wonder.  “This is church, this is state, rock and roll, Amazing Grace.”  Then, “Should I go to the front, should I go to the back?  Should I just pray or should I attack?”  Considering it’s Doug singing (Doug is black), I wonder if some folks of limited intelligence might have found those lyrics just a little scary?  This is some powerful shit.

Doug sounds wracked with pain on “Sometimes”, again tormented by the world he sees around him.  As King’s X progressed, so too would Doug’s subject matter and way of approaching it.  In 1988 he was deeply religious. “I stand here waiting for new Jerusalem, I know it’s greater than the world outside.”  The pain subsides on “King”, which is an incredible high water mark of songwriting…and it’s on a debut album.  Consider that for just a moment.  Again Doug is using Biblical imagery in his words, but King’s X did not seem to preach.  Even if some were starting to suspect that the titular “King” was Jesus Christ himself, hey look an awesome guitar solo!

The rumblin’ bass of Pinnick shakes your teeth on “What is This?”  Heavy and melancholy until the chorus kicks in, “What is This?” nails it again.  “Far, Far Away” ceases the slamming temporarily, for some 60’s textures and dreamy Van Halen-esque chops.  “Shot of Love” has a slight but noticeable jangle to its marching riffage.  Out of the Silent Planet boasted numerous styles of rock on one album but also usually within a single song too.  “Shot of Love” recalls gospel, marches, Queen, Judas Priest and Supertramp.  Finally, “Visions” is heavy on riffage, combined with heavenly choirs of vocals.  Sabbathy riff changes, Motorhead tempos, Eddie Van-shred, and Beach Boys harmonies.  Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

1988 came and went, with King’s X winding up on many critics’ top 10 lists.  As luck or perhaps just taste would have it, that did not translate into sales.  But in 1988 that didn’t mean the end.  That just meant you go back into the studio and make another album.  A better album.

5/5 stars

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