The Phantom Tollbooth

Tape Head
Artist:  King's X
Label: Metal Blade (www.metalblade.com)
Time: 47:47 / 13 tracks
Music, oh music, such a funky thing.
The closer you get, the deeper it means.
Welcome to the Groove Machine!
Welcome to the groove!
King's X is back in almost top form with Tape Head. If you are a fan of the band, you'll be pleased to learn they've combined their signature sound with a few surprises. In fact, they've largely revisited the original sound they carved with their debut album, Out of the Silent Planet, along with flashes of more recent work. The overall rawness of the tracks recalls Dogman more so than the lush, heavily produced works of Ear Candy, without being quite as grungy. The production values are a bit different, but still lets the band's talents shine through crisply. The harmonies are still sweet, the lead and bass guitar work is still stellar, and Jerry Gaskill's impressive drum work is pushed even closer to the front of the mix, as the percussive solo in the middle of Groove Machine most notably testifies. Best of all, they've continued to explore the funkier tradition of some of their work like "Sometimes" and "April Showers," again invoking the spirit of Sly & the Family Stone. The result is an album that doesn't push their boundaries as far as it could, but a King's X plateau is better than most bands' pinnacles, so this is still a worthy purchase. When 1996's Ear Candy was released, there were sad rumors that it may be their last album. Gratefully, that was not so, and Tape Head proves they have not rested on their laurels.

There are more high marks than stinkers in this collection, and songs like "Fade," "Ono," and "World" come close to capturing the dizzying energy of past efforts. As good as many of these songs are, however, not one is as immediately catchy as some of their highest spots like "Over My Head," "It's Love," or even "Looking for Love." What is presented is still considerable. Diehard fans will find much for both moshing and making melody.

Regrettably, King's X has determined to drift further and further away from the messages of previous albums. The overt faith-encouraging and spirit-lifting messages centered in a decidedly Christian world view are now substituted for muted messages from the same world view at best, or admonitions of a complete different beast altogether. For example, there are still faint glimmers, such as this bit from "Ocean":

 Deep in the desert
 One flower standing alone
 Faith hope and love
 Carry me back to my home.
 And "Little Bit of Soul," which universally exhorts the listener to put a little soul into everything from music, to living, and even religion. Nevertheless, the overall message (if it's fair to say there is an overall message) is more akin to a sort of Sixties-love-everybody-and-love-yourself and-everything-will-be-alright vibe. "Happy" is the most obvious example:
Now the kingdom of everything is within and to love yourself is not a sin.
And if there's a light inside, it'll shine.
Then there is the ecclesiastical, nearly pessimistic nonchalance of:
 White racists, black hatred, never gonna die
 Religion, fascism, Armageddon time
 Doomsdayin', God savin', everybody dies
 World, round and round it goes.
Their transformation from a so-called Christian friendly band is nearly complete. With the absence of those upbeat faith affirmations, however, King's X has also slipped a bit in their positive energy and excitement. No longer being excited about the gifts of a Holy and Loving God, they are left only with themselves. As our faith testifies, positive sentiments about ourselves may be helpful, but they aren't enough. Neither is this album, although the strength of their song-writing musical skills nearly makes it so.

While speaking of King's X as one of the truly greatest bands of the last fifteen years, a friend recently remarked, "Y'know, they have certain songs I like better than others, but there ain't a dog in the bunch." That's still true of the fifteen songs here, although one could hope that more  of Ty Tabor's world view would peak through. The last song on Tape Head, "Wally Bela Farkas (Live Peace in New York)," continues the King's X tradition of ending the album on a lighter note. This time the band improvised a rather bizarre sequence with label-mate Galactic Cowboy's Wally Farkas guesting on superbly strange vocals. The resulting song (if you can call such an experiment a song) sends the ultimate message to fans: "Stop taking us so seriously, and just enjoy our music." And we still can. King's X continues to deliver an album's worth of superior musical chops with occasional quality insights. Thank God.

By Steven Stuart Baldwin  (11/17/98)

With their latest album, Tape Head, King's X stick with their strengths, those being their complex vocal harmonies and incredible guitar tones, while adding an element of harder and darker music and lyrics. Probably the most pronounced change from the last album is the use of a powerful low-end guitar groove. Although not every song uses this, those that don't suffer for it.

The first three songs on the album, "Groove Machine," "Fade," and "Ono," are nothing short of spectacular. Unfortunately, other songs such as "Hate You" and "Mr. Evil", seem out of place and overtly angry for King's X songs. While there are some incredibly good songs on this record, there are some incredibly poor ones, like "Little Bit Of Soul" and "Hate You", marring what should otherwise be a complete listening experience. Also, the inclusion of a live track called "Walter Bela Farkas," which features the guitarist from the
Galactic Cowboys screaming at the top of his lungs, will undoubtedly cause many listeners to scramble for the stop button, as it did me. Probably the biggest flaw with this album is
that it doesn't stretch the band's abilities. King's X has been using the same musical formula for over a decade now, and its age is really starting to show. Maybe a more pronounced musical change will reinvigorate the band for their next album.

By Joe Rockstroh  (11/18/98)