Review Summary: A band in search of themselves.
What does a band do when they create and refine a unique sound buoyed by heavy-metal riffing, airy harmonies, catchy melodies, terrific instrumentation, an incredibly compelling soul-singing frontman and always interesting song-structures while failing to gain any sort of mainstream success? Why, they sell out of course. For better or for worse ‘Ear Candy’ is the most atypical King’s X record you are likely to find. The band still sound like themselves, but they’ve removed a lot of the heavier and more challenging aspects of their music to create a somewhat watered-down version of their own sound, drawing more from their Psychedelic influences than from their Heavy Metal and Funk/Soul roots.
The sudden shift in musical aesthetic is particularly jarring considering that ‘Ear Candy’ follows 1994’s superb ‘Dogman’ which found King’s X playing their heaviest, both musically and lyrically, music yet. King’s X had been gradually writing heavier and darker music over the course of the 90’s with 1991’s upbeat and sunny ‘Faith, Hope, Love’ followed by the 1992’s brooding self-titled album which was in turn followed by the even darker ‘Dogman’. Perhaps it was the pressure exerted on the band by their record label to put out a hit album, or perhaps it was the band’s disillusionment with their audience in general, but for the most part the band stays away from the heavy distortion and the down-tuned guitars and the result is actually a fine pop-rock album that sadly somehow STILL managed to evade any major success.
The first and most noticeable difference about ‘Ear Candy’ when compared with the band’s previous efforts is the fact that bassist Doug Pinnick takes a backseat much more when it comes to singing lead vocals. While he had always been the primary vocalist in the band, and with good reason, guitarist Ty Tabor and, on one occasion, drummer Jerry Gaskill had always gotten opportunities to sing lead vocals. Tabor in particular practically split lead vocals on the albums until the eponymous fourth album when Pinnick began dominating the lead vocal duties. On ‘Dogman’ Pinnick sang lead vocals on every song while ably supported, as always, by the impeccable harmonies of Tabor and Gaskill.
This time around, Tabor and Pinnick split the lead vocals with Gaskill even getting a rare lead vocal spot on the quirky and unexpectedly enjoyable “American Cheese (Jerry’s Pianto)”. While Tabor and Gaskill are not in the same league as Pinnick, who is well known for his incredible voice and the ability to shift gears from gospel-tinged soulfulness to heavy-metal screeches both effortlessly and convincingly, this is more a testament to Pinnick’s vocal abilities than a knock on theirs. Tabor sports a light tenor that suits the mellow and psychedelic music very well, particularly on the opening track “The Train” and on the superb “Mississippi Moon”.
The music itself resides somewhere between power-pop and straight up rock with jangly chords making more of an appearance than distorted riffing. The closest the band gets to their renowned heaviness is the fairly weak “67” but even here the music is much more restrained and doesn’t really turn the corner into heavy metal. The band occasionally does step up the tempo and turn in a couple of rockers such as “Looking for Love” and “Run”. However, they rarely push all the way down on the pedal and takes mid-song breaks from the distortion on “Fathers” and “Life Going By”.
There are also substantial changes in the lyrical themes tackled by the band. Whereas the band has, in the past, written primarily about spiritual themes revolving around (initially) their spiritual beliefs, and (later) their disillusionment with those beliefs, most of the songs here tackle much earthier topics. No less than four songs here, “Picture”, “Fathers”, “Mississippi Moon” and “Life Going By” are nostalgic looks at home and family and find the band growing increasingly contemplative rather than passionately emotional about the world as they get older. The anger and sadness with the state of the world and life in general that seemed to pervade ‘Dogman’ has been replaced by a slightly melancholic acceptance of that world.
In the end, King’s X has created perhaps their lightest and most disposable record in ‘Ear Candy’. The band doesn’t challenge and reward their listeners and there is an unfortunate lack of any classic King’s X songs on this record, with the possible exceptions of the undeniably catchy “Mississippi Moon” and the extremely un-King’s X-like “American Cheese (Jerry’s Pianto). However, the band proves that they are so good that even when they revamp, or water-down (depending on your point of view) their sound, they are still capable of making some very listenable rock-music which still manages to be more original and unique than practically any of their peers. However, with this final concession to commercial viability failing, the band was dropped from their label, which proved a blessing in disguise as it allowed them to return to their trademark sound on subsequent albums.
American Cheese (Jerry's Pianto)
Looking for Love