Review Summary: A return to form for possibly the most under-rated hard rock band in the world.
While King’s X’s previous album, ‘Ear Candy’ wasn’t exactly a mis-step, it was a step away from the band’s trademark sound. The guitars were softer and janglier, there were were no heavy riffs, and the music favoured the psychedelic side of the band, paying homage in a way to their Beatles-ian influences, while downplaying the rest of their very diverse influences. ‘Tape Head’ is a return to form for the band, and while it isn’t nearly as good as the classic ‘Dogman’ or ‘Gretchen Goes to Nebraska’ or even the somewhat overlooked self-titled album, it shows a band comfortably and gracefully settling into middle-age and almost effortlessly turning out hard rock gems.
Some of the changes in the band that were apparent from ‘Ear Candy’ persist in ‘Tape Head’. For instance, apart from 'World' the entire album grooves at a mid to slow tempo. There are heavy riffs galore on this record, but even when the guitars are heavy the pace doesn't pick up which makes the songs groove more than they rock. The opener sets the tone of the album with its circular ascending riff and is even called ‘Groove Machine’.
Even vocally the band is far more laidback than on their classic records. Almost all the lead vocals this time around are handled by bassist Doug Pinnick with support from the harmonies of guitarist Ty Tabor and drummer Jerry Gaskill. This is a big change from ‘Ear Candy’ where Pinnick and Tabor split lead vocal duties and a return to the ‘Dogman’ aesthetic where Pinnick handled all the lead vocals. However, Pinnick rarely stretches himself the way fans of the band are used to. His vocal turns are extremely soulful but all of them are in the mid-range of his voice except for the return of his Smokey Robinson-ish falsetto on ‘Little Bit of Soul’. The only Tabor lead vocal turn on the album is ‘Ocean’ which is predictably the most psychedelic song here.
The end result of this mid-tempo grooviness combined with a lack of vocal gymnastics and vocal diversity on the album may be a turn off for some. However, King’s X still manages to crank out a few understated classics on this album. While the 1-2 punch of ‘Groove Machine’ and ‘Fade’ are the most immediate and catchy things on the album, the slow-burning charm of the rest of the record shines through eventually with ‘Little Bit of Soul’ being a standout track and the joyous 'World' providing a nice counterpoint to the rest of the album. The only real mis-step is the gag at the end with Wally Farkas. Otherwise, this is a consistent and melodic hard rock album which may seem a trifle workmanlike when compared with the rest of King’s X’s body of work, but not when taken by itself.
Little Bit of Soul
Higher than God