Tape Head

King's X

Metal Blade Records, 1998


REVIEW BY: Dan Smith


Back in the day, before grunge made bands so self-conscious, it was okay to kick a little ass in the name of rock and roll - rather than, say, disaffection. I recall seeing the video for "Over My Head", a single from King's X 1989 release Gretchen Goes To Nebraska, and remarking just how powerfully they rocked. Ty Tabor brought scads of tone with his "secret" guitar rig, playing with more intensity and conviction than 200 hair rockers.

It was this conviction, shared by the group, which turned them into an underground sensation for an extremely dedicated fan base. Their videos were actually interspersed with the metal-lite that dominated MTV at the time. Critics liked them and they were a big hit with the musician crowd. I'm not sure why the mainstream ignored them - King's X had the talent to be the next big thing in rock; they were far more sincere than their unfortunate contemporaries Warrant, LA Guns, and the other shitty poseur bands.

Well, I do have a suspicion it was the implicit religious message within their songs that prevented their break. Christian bands so rarely make it big with the in-crowd. Not that it's important to do that; it's simply where large money and popular legitimacy is. I never considered King's X a religious group. I knew it was there but they were just so bad ass, lacking the cheesy, overproduced Christian band sound and incessant lyrical references to "He" and "Him". They were a little more real I think.

Alas, as shafts go, they got a rather large one. Signed then dropped by Atlantic, they were unfortunate victims of the grunge/alternative turn in popular music. Now they're on Metal Blade after a hiatus and solo albums to placate Tabor and Doug Pinnick.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The new album, Tape Head, is an evolution of King's X's last two studio albums, Ear Candy and Dogman. It's refreshing too, with an interesting studio approach first heard on Ear Candy - a particular attention paid to spacing everything in an extremely wide mix. It's effective, especially when you listen on headphones. I love the idea of making headphone friendly albums - not many modern bands evolve to using the studio as a tool and instrument. But King's X has always had a tendency to throw flourishes on a track - backward vocals, sitars, and various environmental noises from the left and the right.

There are two songs on Tape Head showing the most sophisticated merging of funk, hard rock, and pop. "Little Bit Of Soul" is a Sly song with smooth edges and a huge bottom. Doug Pinnick remains one of the most dynamic singers in music - that's him doing the coolest vocals on the Hendrix tribute In From the Storm. His vocals have always been a big part of King's X's appeal, he's got the confidence and vocal flamboyance that is anything but common. "Higher Than God" is an old school chorus with a metallic verse and vindictive lyrics. Ty Tabor's riffs and solos sound familiar yet extraterrestrial at the same time anchored by athletic drummer Jerry Gaskill's exceptional playing.

I've enjoyed the division of labor in King's X; watching who emerges as dominant singer or songwriter on an album. Surprisingly the band usually divides everything the same way, with everyone contributing to the band's practically patented vocal style. Tape Head is definitely the best album since the self-titled 1992 release. The choruses revolve around interesting melodies, always sounding different yet solid enough to be mainstream radio content. Tabor's songwriting always touches the pop vein and Lennon influence - "Ocean" drips with this sentiment. Songs like "Cupid" have the pop sensibility and clever lyrical structure that could make a mainstream hit, while the vocal harmonies are lush and appealing.

The artwork on this CD (and the recently released Platypus release When Pus Comes to Shove - Tabor's side project) is just awful. Tabor seems to have taken total control of packaging and producing. This is fine, as he has his own music production site, but damn it: guitar players should stay away from the artwork. Looking like a high school student's web page, the album's layout and photography really inspire the need to buy a plain jewel case and just keep the important part.

I say give these guys a chance if you like Led Zeppelin or another similarly heavy but tasty group. They're reduced to playing shitty heavy metal bars due to disinterest and crummy record company support, so give them a shot. The album is good, as is their entire catalog. If you love current music on the radio, never mind. You're incorrigible at this point.

Rating: A

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 1999 Dan Smith and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Metal Blade Records, and is used for informational purposes only.