Greg Kihn Band

Riot Media, 2017

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


One thing’s for sure: this is the best Greg Kihn album in the last 20 years. Of course—and you just know the rascally Kihn would appreciate this gag—it’s also the only one…

Rekihndled sent this big fan from college days (see #15 on my “20 Albums That Influenced Me” column) scurrying back to my old autographed vinyl LPs—and to iTunes, where Kihn has recently rereleased his entire ’75-84 Beserkeley catalog—for a morning-long nostalgia wallow. The main conclusion: what made Kihn special was never craft—he and his band were always more about enthusiasm than sophistication, and Kihn never met a cornball punchline he couldn’t turn into a song—it was passion.  Kihn and his namesake band wrote and sang and played with their hearts on their sleeves, and that made all the difference to me, a Bay Area native who caught the wave just as local boy Kihn was pushing up through the clubs to radio and theaters and finally MTV and the national stage.

Propelled up the mountain by hits “The Breakup Song (They Don’t Write ’Em Like That)” and “Jeopardy,” the Greg Kihn Band’s stay at the summit was brief and seemingly catastrophic, as what had been a tight-knit unit spun apart over the course of several increasingly obscure follow-up albums. By the ’90s Kihn had reinvented himself as a rock ‘n’ roll radio man (an acclaimed run as a morning-show DJ in San Jose) and author (five published novels) who played a few live shows a year for fun.

Flash forward to 2017 and Kihn is back in the game with Rekihndled, an energetic hoot of an album that’s pretty much everything you could have hoped for. Part of the key is that he’s supported by the most compatible and talented supporting cast he’s had since original GKB days: his son Ry Kihn on lead guitar and Robert Berry (Hush, 3, Alliance) on bass, keys and production, with both contributing the harmony vocals that were always crucial to the GKB sound. Dave Lauser of Sammy Hagar’s band plays drums on the majority of these tracks, with Dave Danza and original Greg Kihn Band drummer Larry Lynch on two tracks apiece.

The 67-year-old Kihn’s voice has picked up some grit over the years, but he doesn’t try to compensate or hold back at all—to the contrary, he lets fly, giving you absolutely everything he’s got in a voice full of character and a thousand stories of the road.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Maybe the best part is the way Kihn manages to recapture the joy and enthusiasm that was such a vital ingredient in the early songs while waxing philosophical in an age-appropriate way. You hear it right away on punchy opener “The Life I Got,” but also on the determinedly optimistic “It’s Never Too Late” and the airy, suitably anthemic “Anthem,” which finds Kihn offering back the advice that feels like it resides at the core of this album: “Seize the moment before the moment’s gone.”

Of course, perpetual jokester Kihn can’t resist having some big fun with “Big Pink Flamingos,” a song so over-the-top retro-kitshcy that it just makes you smile, especially when the band attacks it like it’s the most important thing they’ve ever played, even as the man up front is name-dropping Betty Page and Judy Jetson. “Flamingos” and “Cassandra” each feature especially muscular lead guitar from Ry Kihn.

Toward the middle of the 11-track album, “Tell Me Something Good” finds Kihn revisiting an old friend, an energetic take on the blue-eyed funk rhythms and clavinet that turned “Jeopardy” into a hit. Next, the sharp, melodic “Good To Be Me” offers an upbeat positive-thinking message and sweet, concise little guitar solo with a bit of a keening Santana tone to it.

Kihn, who previously turned his weakness for B-movie sci-fi and horror into literature, lets his inner goofball loose for “The Brain Police,” a nonsensical ditty that at least benefits from the perpetually solid Larry Lynch’s big, playful backbeat. Ry Kihn’s turbo-charged lead guitar is similarly the best thing about the otherwise forgettable “Trained Monkey.” And while the autobiographical “I Wrote The Book” is cute, its central gag is maybe not write-a-whole-song-about-it funny.

Just when you’re feeling like the album might be fading a bit, though, Kihn steps out front and places his heart right back there on his sleeve for closer “A Place We Could Meet.” With Kihn and Lynch now the only living members left from the classic GKB lineup (which also featured Steve Wright, Dave Carpender and Gary Phillips), Kihn has written a heartfelt tribute to his fallen bandmates, and to the idea of a band itself: “You gave me love / You gave me peace / You made my words / A place we could meet / And yes to you / I raise my glass / I drink to you / To friendships that last / We’ve been through it all / Together / Answered the call / Together / And we are strong and we are true / And we are one.”

It surely helps to know the context, and to have experienced some of what he’s singing about from the audience side of the stage. But I will say as a sentimental fan who watched those five young guys play their hearts out in tiny clubs in 1980, and then witnessed all that followed, this song is just beautiful.

A few final comments. Ry Kihn offers the biggest, boldest lead guitar sound the band has ever featured, with fretboard skills that outstrip the entire roster of former GKB guitar-slingers with the possible exception of Joe Satriani… who was Kihn’s lead guitar player for a single semi-forgotten 1986 album, and also Ry’s guitar teacher. For his part, Robert Berry fills the musical foil / co-composer / harmony vocalist role formerly played by GKB stalwart Steve Wright perfectly, bringing out the best in Kihn again and again.

Is this album going to change the world? Not likely, but that’s never been Greg Kihn’s goal. He won’t hesitate to make you think, but most of the time he’d rather make you dance and shout and laugh away your troubles for a few minutes in a hail of good old-fashioned hook-laden rock ‘n’ roll. Through his entire career, Greg Kihn’s best moments have always been all about heart, and Rekihndled shows that heart is still beating strong.

Rating: B+

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2017 Jason Warburg 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 Riot Media, and is used for informational purposes only.