I've never been much of a fan of the King's X oeuvre. I got my Rush-like prog virtuosity from Rush and my Beatlesque harmonies from the Beatles, it didn't strike me to look for a spiritual fix on hard-rock radio and I've never had any particular desire to see the three elements mixed. That said, though, it remains that Dogman, the band's fifth effort, is a damned convincing product, and it brings me the closest I've been to becoming one of those "converted" the perpetually almost-big King's X is always preaching to.
The secret, of course, is to crank up the volume to levels so extreme that they induce flashbacks to the years when you played air guitar in earnest. The use of Brendan O'Brien -- the man behind Pearl Jam's power-groove sound -- in the producer's seat has done wonders for a band that's too often been too complex for its own good. Here, King's X's tricky embellishments are kept in their place, serving the songs rather than substituting for them. Crunching almost-speedcore riffs do their headbanging thing, but they're solidly anchored to a big rock beat. Doug Pinnick's bluesy vocals still hit a few too many notes for my idea of direct sincerity, but his lyrics -- which in the past have had to reach across broad, heavenly spaces to connect with something -- are refreshingly, if depressingly, personal. Ty Tabor's guitar deserves the showcase it gets here, and Jerry Gaskill's drums stay happily closer to the groove than on previous outings.
Whether it's enough to keep the band afloat after a string of disappointingly unsold records remains to be seen, but songs like "Dogman" and "Black the Sky" -- if not the unnecessary live cover of Hendrix's "Manic Depression" -- make a case that the band has finally learned how to focus its widely scattered abilities. It was a King's X crowd that managed to carry the poorly attended Scorpions show at the Summit a few months back, and with this strong a CD on the shelves, this would be an unwise time to write them off.
-- Brad Tyer
King's X performs Tuesday, May 10 at the Tower Theatre, 1201 Westheimer. Call 629-3700 for more info.
Live: The Island Years
The Sound of White Noise
The release of Island's live disk, recorded in 1991 and '92, seems timed to coincide with the present Anthrax tour, but don't be fooled. These cuts are better represented in their studio recordings. Besides, at that point in its career, Anthrax was still fronted by singer Joe Belladonna, and it wasn't for nothing that the band canned him. Aside from the possible collectibility of Anthrax's live duet with Public Enemy on "Bring the Noise," Live is essentially pointless.
For The Sound of White Noise, Belladonna has been replaced by John Bush, who isn't nearly as embarrassing as his predecessor, even if he is still a faux-operatic metal singer. The results are a tiny step forward -- which is something, considering the narrow latitude of the metal/thrash territory Anthrax is mining. A bit more emphasis on melody makes the new Anthrax, well, a little more melodic, but don't hold your breath for crossover. Good for headbanging, but not much more.
-- Brad Tyer
Anthrax performs on Thursday, May 5 at the Tower Theatre.
Trinity Garden Cartel
Don't Blame It on Da Music
Okay, but whom to blame the music on? Yet another gangster record from Rap-a-Lot engenders skepticism, and even if some of that doubt remains after listening to DonÕt Blame It, TGC does offer more.
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In fact, this group could restore some of the lost appeal of neo-realist gangster toughness -- if, that is, TGC and Rap-a-Lot aren't shut down by two HPD officers' recent lawsuit over the use of their pictures on the disk's cover. With a little extra style and wit, Don't Blame It puts an energized spin on a hip-hop subgenre that's recently sold as many images as records. The manufactured gangster persona, confined to the usual reference points of "bitches, hos, gats and nines," is present only in limited doses -- on the title track, "Charge It to the Game" and "Gangsta Stroll."
Aside from three or four direct encounters with the "G-Thang," TGC relies on slightly less direct storytelling: it never entirely escapes the universe of drive-bys and drug dealers, but it does show a degree or two of satiric distance. "Trinity Garden High" has a secondary-school educator conducting oral math exams with an inverted cultural bias in the word problems: "Johnny has an AK-47 with a 40-round clip. If he misses six out of ten shots, and shoots 13 shots at every drive-by shooting, how many drive-bys can Johnny attend before he has to reload?"
The production has some bright moments of compelling funk, but this remains unquestionably a Houston gangsta record, thickly laden with the expected Parliament/ Funkadelic samples and rolling synthesizer triads at the bottom. Given the perverse commercialization the style has undergone, Don't Blame It on Da Music is about as provocative as gangster records get, if only because TGC manages to find some vitality left in the "do what it takes to bring home some cash" school of songwriting.
-- Bryan Patrick