Review Summary: Justin King gets a few friends together and takes his music into a completely direction. The result is one of the best Radio Pop releases of the last few years.
It’s strange, but for some reason I’ve always really wanted to like Justin King. Before I ever really heard his music, I felt predisposed to enjoying him. He just sort of had that “X” factor, that cool and relaxed presence reminiscent of someone like, say, Ben Folds. And that is exactly what I expected upon first hearing him, a charming guitar Ben Folds, a guy that would make catchy rock tunes with a hint of technicality and a strong sense of melody. So, with a desire to quench my thirst for radio Pop, I went out and bought his solo release Le Bleu
What I actually got was a far cry from any kind of Ben Folds or John Mayer clone.
For nineteen tracks, I listened to King tap, rip, pluck, and beat his way through some of the most catchy and intricate acoustic instrumentals I’d ever heard. Superb melodies that incorporated elements of Jazz, Celtic, Folk, and Flamenco; all centered around his complex tapping technique. I was hooked on Le Bleu
for a good three months, and it established Justin King as one of the most interesting and varied modern guitarists in my mind.
So naturally, when I heard that he was getting a full band together, I was intrigued to say the least. As interesting as he was on his own, with a band he would surely push his creativity to a new limit. And with a second guitarist? He would be able to take his technical tapping approach to new levels. Adding an entire roster of musicians would no doubt result in Justin King’s most technical, progressive, and individual release yet, right?
Wrong. In fact, I don’t think my expectations for any record have ever been proved more wrong than in the case of Justin King and the Apologies
. The new record is not the progressive, acoustic tapping opus that I had predicted. It’s not some innovative venture into Jazz improvisation. It’s not a modern take on Celtic Folk music, infused with Marimba percussion. When I finally picked it up and hit play, it surprised me more than any of the aforementioned efforts could have. I never could have suspected the direction he would choose to go in. It is, well, at it’s core; Radio Rock.
However, if Justin King and the Apologies
is another piece of food in the great buffet that is Mainstream Radio, it as got to be the grand ***ing roast. Because despite it’s inevitable cliches, and despite it’s slight lack of variety, it is by no means a step backwards for Mr. King and Co. Incorporating elements of Indie, Pop, and a bit of the guitar work that got him thus far, his newest release attempts to appeal to old and new fans. He succeeds in retaining the individuality that made his previous efforts so effective, and he attempts to bring his unique approach to songwriting and guitar playing into a mainstream setting. And he succeeds, for the most part.
The most immediate departures from everything that made Justin King, well, Justin King, are obvious. The guitar takes a backseat to the vocals and songwriting for most the record, rarely indulging in the technical outbursts of fleet fingered tapping that we have come to identify him with. In place of these guitar heroics, we have Justin King’s vocals. Thankfully, he has a gorgeous voice and a very, very keen sense of melody. Just about every song is simply infectious, with his beautiful voice guiding the songs. The lyrics are by no means poetic, however they are far superior to 95% of everything else one could find on the radio. He makes strong use of imagery, and the lyrics usually complement the music well, in that they are very positive. All in all, this is a very positive and feel good record, of which the vocals are a great reflection.
Of course, strong vocals aren’t really enough to individualize any band that plays Pop Rock. As far as instrumentals go, the entire band works together perfectly. Predictably, King plays acoustic for most the record, however the driving rhythm section and lead electric guitar add a whole new dimension to his music. The instrumentation is anything but standard, imposing unique chord voices and some really melodic beautiful passages that perfectly complement the vocal melodies. The entire album is full of Highligts, moments where everything just clicks perfectly to make some amazing songs, but a few stand out more than others. Bailing The Titanic
takes the spotlight of Justin King for awhile, and gives the other guitarist some time to shine. Some shimmering lead work guides the song, and the entire band eventually hit’s a driving climax, with layers of delayed guitar exploding back into the chorus. Missing Something
is one of the best songs on the CD, and is probably the best representation of King crossing old and new styles. The beauty is in the subtle intricacies, quaint harmonics that run throughout the verses and some background horns. At around forty seconds, one of the CD’s best melodies comes in, and in the last remaining minute of the song King explodes in with the tapping work that I have come to love so much. It is particularly effective, especially since his more complex work is such a rarity on this self titled release. Finally, Change
is the perfect radio pop song. It doesn’t hook the listener, it pretty much harpoons them with a brilliant verse and chorus, as well as some of the CD‘s best lyrics. Plus it’s got some more of that wonderful tapping work.
Sure, Justin King falls a little short in some places. Despite much of the instrumentation being very different, the whole album feels a bit too similar. King absolutely croons, however it is all the same wonderful croon, and there isn’t much variation. It’s a straightforward, shameless, Pop Rock release. However, it is largely because it is Pop Rock that it is so effective. Justin King doesn’t try to be Dave Matthews. He doesn’t try to be John Mayer. He doesn’t try to be(thank God) Jason Mraz. Rather, this CD sounds like Justin King playing some music that he loves to write, listen to, and play. And as a result, it is honest. It is charming. It is distinctive and individualistic. It is Justin King and the Apologies being Justin King and the Apologies. It is some of the best Mainstream Rock I have heard in a long, long time. Perfectly executed, this is the kind of music that is just a joy to listen to. It’s hard to really explain the music, because it is fairly standard mainstream, just done really, really well and with a few outside influences brought in. And in the case of Justin King, that is enough to solidify this as a superb release.