Thursday, 23 October 2008

The King Blues - Save The World, Get The Girl Album Review (2008)

It was with a certain amount of trepidation that I approached this album. Having reviewed the second single My Boulder for The Music Magazine and checking out the band's MySpace pages, I thought maybe the album was just two decent singles and a lot of nonsense. I was very surprised. Only a couple of songs in the middle of album get a big bogged down and the rest is excellent.

The review:

Ever since Bob Dylan sang "The times they are a-changin'" in 1963, music and politics have been forever combined. Music is now used extensively as both megaphone and soapbox to promote good causes, to rabble-rouse and to protest against injustice. Artists have always been politically aware, motivated by dramatic current events, the decisions of world leaders, wars, invasions etc. But not all are too keen to make music about it. Drawing inspiration from Bob Marley, Joe Strummer and Billy Bragg, London trio The King Blues are immediately labelled as a political band, even before the first note is struck. Ironically sporting dark glasses and bandanas on the cover of 'Save The World, Get The Girl' does little to help the PR.

The album opens with the brilliant 'My Boulder' - a tearful Tubthumping-esque tale of two men in a pub. The message is obvious: stop whining and start helping each other. The song kicks off with the big sing-along chorus before we are introduced to the bag-of-nails vocals of lead singer Jonny Fox AKA Itch. The transformation in the last minute brings in a sample of 'The Pied Piper Of Hamlyn' by Robert Browning (a tale of revenge and injustice) before Itch begins an aggressive tirade. A great start.

This promotion of peace and harmony continues with the deliciously tuneful chorus of 'I Got Love', starting with acoustic guitars before Itch starts the positive vibes. It is a deceptive move as 'The Schemers, The Scroungers And The Rats' is much more venomous: a country-blues melody from the Conor Oberst songbook ironically praising the non-working classes with tongue firmly in cheek. 'Underneath This Lamppost Light' changes the mood again, this time into delicate drunken love song. Itch declares to the subject that "The smell of kebab meat and sausage in batter will always remind me of you..." and "I know it smells of piss, but you look beautiful tonight". James Blunt it certainly is not. A cheesy string arrangement frames the chorus and then rises in the last two minutes with mesmerising guitars. The title track is a superhero metaphor with a twist as Itch introduces the chorus with "If we lean on you, we are gonna fall...when it's all for one and one for fuck all". The second verse is a blatant attack on America and the motivations of the Iraq 'war', poking a finger but considered and controlled. Excellent.

The start of 'For You My Darling' is just over a minute of gravely crooning before the band launch into a Gogol Bordello style folky rant. As interesting a sound as it is, the song is laboured and strained, overlong and repetitive. 'The Streets Are Ours' continues the sound, with similar effect, but injects the poison again. With just over a minute to go, the song descends into bizarre carnival drumming before the final outburst. The problem here, other than the lack of a tune, is the deliberate provocative pro-riot delivery which oversteps the mark. These two songs form a lull where the album becomes too wrapped up in misguided self-indulgence. A minor but noticeable glitch.

The first single to be taken from the album 'Let's Hang The Landlord' gets the balance just about perfect. An autobiographical account of an early punk life of squatting, crime, drinking, playing music and fantasising about dispatching the owner and take over the building. Again, another cracking chorus forms the core of the song which cumulates with a poignant account of what happened to the 'old crowd' and then a rousing crescendo in the last minute. 'Out Of Luck' starts where 'Underneath This Lamppost Light' ends - a heartbreaking acoustic ballad of surviving in the face of adversity. The dub-influenced 'Hold On Tight' has some of the best song writing on the album - highlighting again that first impressions are often wrong. Itch tells us that "they want soap operas and not soap boxes" before the money shot: "I would rather be pissed off...than be pissed on". It is not the raucous punk anthem you would expect from the lyrics; instead a soft rolling poetic masterpiece. Predictably this measured demeanour does not last and Itch launches another attack, concluding with the best lyrics on the album: "I demand no rent, no bills, no council tax; I demand love that isn’t measured by the relationships of the characters on Friends; Or the words to some dire R&B song about what a good man, what a mighty mighty good man is".

All of this leads to the album's epic conclusion. 'What If Punk Never Happened' is a huge tribute to the music which 'changed the world', opening with a Back To The Future influenced journey into an alternate 'hippy, grunge reality'. Above all this is a wonderful piece of poetry set to a simple Streets rising keyboard melody. Effortlessly blending in the politics with "There’s no-one around to fight Margaret Thatcher" and the arguable "With no punk rock everything went unchallenged", the story takes a sinister modern day twist as Itch talks about CCTV, ID cards and 'identity theft'. Into the final stretch, he namedrops everyone from Sham 69, The Ramones and The Buzzcocks to The Dead Kennedys and The Clash, all while the music rises behind him majestically. The ultimate message of hope ends with the words, left echoing as the music fades: "Take pride in being whoever the fuck you want to be; Throw your fist in the air in solidarity; And shout Viva la punk, just one life, anarchy!".

The Kings Blues is more socially aware than overtly political. Itch's lyrics are both profound and earthy; a clever mix of open-hearted reality and street-talk charm. It is like Mike Skinner fronting Glasvegas. Even if you never had an underprivileged youth, you can immediately relate to the life and culture being portrayed - and the need to, as Nick Cave puts it, "kick against the pricks". This sympathetic attitude may seem snobbishly patronising but it is a genuine empathy. Musically the band's initial sound was ska and punk, now developed wonderfully into a kind of urban-folk fusing acoustic guitars, ukulele, strings, bass and drums. Instead of off-the-shelf drum machines and looped rhythms, the music is 'real' - never overusing reggae and dub, rarely resorting to screaming tuneless punk, and never sounding tedious and out-dated. A band so saturated in obvious influences should not sound this fresh. 'Save The World, Get The Girl' is inspiring, uplifting, ballsy and brimming with self-aware and socially-motivated attitude.

-- CS (for The Music Magazine)

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