It's pretty hard to express the feelings that are waging war within me as I write this. I've been spending great deals of time with two albums, Doug Pinnick's new release under the name Poundhound, and Tape Head, the latest album by King's X, trying desperately to find nuggets of greatness hidden within all that thump and repetition.
I'm afraid, true believers, that those nuggets just aren't there anymore.
King's X should be a name that you are familiar with; they are one of the few acts in rock history to create a sound that had never been heard before they came into being. With their debut album Out of the Silent Planet, bassist/vocalist Doug Pinnick, guitarist/vocalist Ty Tabor and drummer Jerry Gaskill penned entirely new entries into the rock and roll lexicon, created musical ideas that made you shake your head and say "huh? What the hell was that?!" Ty's strange book of chords, chords that identify him from the first second, has grown more and more voluminous with each album; Doug's insane bass work took the instrument out of the background and made it an aggressive competitor for the forefront.
The next album, Gretchen Goes to Nebraska, remains one of metal's all-time best albums. Filled with off-beat rhythms, Ty's incredible arpeggio work and ultra-intelligent lyrics, it is probably the band's best album to date (in my humble opinion, at any rate). Their first hit came with "It's Love", from Faith Hope Love. "It's Love" was (and is) a near-perfect encapsulation of King's X in four minutes or less: Ty's John Lennon-esque vocal work, the defining harmonies in the chorus and the last bridge, and the moving click-thump sound that made the chorus sound so damned unusual.
Several more albums have passed since them – some of them wonderful, some of them wonderful in spots – culminating in last year's Best of King's X. (Click here to read my original review of that compilation; it'll give you a better idea of how much I love and respect this band and, as a result, how much it hurts to write this column.)
So now, we have three discs in our hands: Ty Tabor's Moonflower Lane, Poundhound's Massive Grooves From The Electric Church of Psychofunkadelic Grungelism Rock Music, and the new King's X release, Tape Head.
Here's the simple fact, as straightforward as I know how to put it: of the three, only Moonflower Lane is worth your hard earned money. The other two are heartbreaking exercises in repetition, self-awareness and boredom.
Having said that, let's look at Moonflower Lane first. I've always felt that King's X songs were written along a spectrum which had Doug's aggressive thump at the one end and Ty's nice-guy harmonies and clean picking at the other. A song like "It's Love" was closer to the Ty end of the spectrum, as was "Pleaides", "Prisoner" and "Life Going By". On the other hand, songs like "Dogman", "Goldilox", "The World Around Me" and "Mission" are clearly Doug's.
What the solo projects have done is surgically separate King's X along clearly marked lines; Ty's album is exactly one half of King's X, and Poundhound is the other half. And on Moonflower Lane, we have Ty's half of the story. It's filled with the kind of melodies that only Ty can write; "Live In Your House" is sweet and moving, while "The Truth" attacks "the church of the hair" with great finesse.
All of the co-stars from the history of the X are here, as well: Frank Hart from Atomic Opera provides some cello work, and all four of the Galactic Cowboys are rooting around in here somewhere. It's an immensely satisfying disc, satisfying in the way King's X albums always have been.
Poundhound and Tape Head can both be taken in the same sitting – in many ways, they feel like the same album. Tape Head is by far better than Massive Grooves, but unfortunately, that's not saying very much; Massive Grooves literally has no songs which even come close to the high standard that Pinnick has always set for himself, while Tape Head has only one track which sees the old glory trying desperately to poke it's head through all that mundanity ("Higher Than God").
I have no doubt that many King's X devotees will react negatively to my comments here; I can imagine myself being branded a reactionary, someone who wants the band to never evolve, never change. I'll be painted as the kind of person that cannot handle it when a beloved artist moves on to another stage in their journey.
Well, I can understand why anyone would think that; certainly, that would be the easiest inference to draw. But the fact is, change is not anathema to greatness – quite the contrary. Dogman was a whiplash-change from the preceding disc, as was Ear Candy - both of which are wonderful albums. But what is missing here is not the old cliches, but rather the steady-handed, mature vision that the band has always possessed. I'm not upset that King's X is no longer writing songs that sound like "I'll Never Be The Same" – rather, I'm upset that King's X is now writing boring songs, regardless of what era they might imply.
The devoted King's X fan – and we are legion – will embrace Tape Head, Massive Grooves and Moonflower Lane, if for no other reason than that they are three discs from three men whose output has moved us and touched us for years. Fine. I can go along with that, too. But I'm counting the days until Ty, Doug and Jerry rekindle the spark of inventiveness and musical playfulness that made them the giants they are. In many ways, Massive Grooves and Tape Head feel like the tangible expression of a mid-life crisis – perhaps, in some manner, that's exactly what they are. Hey, if all it takes to get you past your mid-life crisis is a few lackluster albums, more power to you. We'll be here waiting when you come out on the other side.