King Khan and the Shrines – What Is?!

January 01, 1970

(Vice Music)




Now that the King Khan bandwagon is bursting at the seams,
Vice Records has reissued their What Is album, originally released waaaay back
in 2007. Those only familiar with King Khan from his duo with Mark Sultan will
find the same manic spirit in place, albeit now powered by an eight piece band
at full throttle. When the band is kicking it hard, Khan’s raspy lead vocal
almost scrapes atop a molten combination
of soul, funk, r&b, garage rock and psychedelia. Guitars wah-wah, horns
bleat, drums snap, vocals yelp and the bass dribbles you up and down the floor
like a basketball. Hell, “No Regrets” (my favorite) could be a sore-throated
Iggy fronting The Stooges. But when the circus slows to a more rhythmic beat
(“69 Faces of Love”, “I Wanna Be a Girl”), a calmer Khan sounds a lot like
Arthur Lee.



On “Land of the Freak”, Khan and crew pull out all the stops
and bitch-slap the widest cross-section of influences. Imagine Wilson Pickett
fronting James Brown’s band…or perhaps James Chance and The Contortions being goosed
towards more conventional fare by a hyperactive Sly Stone. The Shrines are much
more effective with up-tempo, foot-stomping, horn-bleating garage rock than
when they stretch it out into more dissonant areas like “Cosmic Serenade”.
There’s just something much more immediately accessible about a trebly guitar
chord wrestling a kick drum for possession of the 4/4 beat, so even though I
have no idea what “Le Fils de Jacques Dutronic” is about – if indeed it is
about anything – I can’t sit still.



But I must admit the stripped down “Fear & Love” is
winningly reminiscent of The Mothers of Invention circa Uncle Meat, and “The Ballad of Lady Godiva” closes the album with
an almost Dylanesque purr. Even “Welfare Bread”, Stax Records via Nuggets, is appealing in its loose
warmth. But as much as some of these tracks jump out of the speakers, I doubt
that comes even close to the blast furnace that is their live show. Get your
freak on with this in private and consider it your dress rehearsal for the live
madness – anything this wild on record has to be explosive in the flesh.



Standout Tracks: “Land of the Freak,” “No Regrets,” “(How Can I Keep You) Outta Harm’s Way.” BILL


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