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Once a relentless trailblazer, King's X sticks to the familiar with new release

Houston has its history of spawning outsider bands. The city, after all, was ground zero for Red Krayola and Roky Erickson and the 13th Floor Elevators when they appropriated psychedelia, a basis of art rock, for U.S. ears. In the mid-'80s when the band members of King's X were interested in relocating here, Houston hadn't been home to much of anything, least of all the kind of subversive music that Erickson and Red Krayola front man Mayo Thompson created (though the city did have a stranglehold on mainstream boogie courtesy of ZZ Top). That's when progressive rock with a Christian twist, King's X stock-in-trade, began taking shape in the form of these three transplanted Midwesterners.

ZZ Top's manager at the time, Sam Taylor, had lured King's X to Houston from Missouri with the promise of a major-label deal, which the trio eventually landed, recording for Atlantic up until 1996. During the band's tenure with the label, followers in King's X's footsteps used whatever leverage they could muster to land recording contracts themselves. The Galactic Cowboys scored, securing a deal with Geffen in 1991, and Atomic Opera, the brainchild of Houstonian Frank Hart, broke through with Warner Bros. in 1994. These days, the Cowboys, Atomic Opera and King's X -- which all record for nationally distributed Metal Blade Records -- are seen as the core of a progressive Christian rock movement, with King's X as the heart.

Aside from the few ambiguous references to God and the final track, "Move Me," which is essentially a prayer, the lyrical content of Mr. Bulbous comprises strings of non sequiturs that are more fantastic than pedantic (something of which King's X, it should be noted, has never been accused, but that many other bands of similar mind-set have). The band doesn't conjure up spirituality as often as other, more mainstream bands, like U2 or Collective Soul or Creed, but its reputation as cross-bearin', J-word-slingin' God rockers prevents an unprejudiced listen. Yet if "God is in the details," then King's X and its wildly stream-of-conscious work are as sacred as Pope John Paul's skull cap.

Originality is what has separated King's X from the rest of Houston - and the planet - lo these past 15 years.
Originality is what has separated King's X from the rest of Houston - and the planet - lo these past 15 years.
As the cover of the band's latest CD indicates, conjuring up the surreal is a King's X trademark.
As the cover of the band's latest CD indicates, conjuring up the surreal is a King's X trademark.

Artful God rock carries tons of baggage. But King's X makes it easy for listeners to be both devout Christians and unwitting headbangers at the same time. Unlike other art rockers, King's X -- for some inexplicable reason -- is perceived as "cool." Carrying around one of its CDs is nothing to be shameful of.

Getting caught with Moving Pictures or the Gen 13 Swimsuit Edition, however, still is.

E-mail Anthony Mariani at anthony.mariani@ houstonpress.com.

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