King Khan returns!
With Idle No More, King Khan returns older, wiser, and a bit more ... mature
Maturity is probably the last thing any fan of King Khan's R&B-laced garage rock wants to hear about. But if maturity culminates with an album that's as focused and brilliantly arranged as Idle No More, it's tough to argue with the idea. Those put off by the concept can take solace in the fact that Khan (his mom knows him as Arish Ahmad Khan) is still actively pursuing his other project: the grimy, stripped-down BBQ Show with his cohort Mark Sultan (aka BBQ). Since returning after a recent mental breakdown, his first album with the Shrines following 2008's Supreme Genius of King Khan is a gloriously rocking affair. His notoriously unhinged live shows, complete with outrageous outfits, including a donkey tooth necklace, are legendary. But on Idle No More — named after a Canadian indigenous rights movement group — he reins in his more frantic presence for a compact, 40-minute set that combines his love of garage, psychedelia, Sun Ra, the Velvet Underground, and Otis Redding into an explosive cocktail. He also pens a song dedicated to Atlanta's late, lamented bad boy of garage rock, Bobby Ubangi, appropriately titled "Bad Boy."
Khan signs off on the album's notes as "King Bama Lama Khan, Emperor of RnB." If that somewhat over-the-top moniker sounds like empty boasting, one spin through any of these 12 corkers will have you agreeing that this propulsive music justifies the theatrical name creating it. From the glockenspiel power pop of "Better Luck Next Time," a tune that would have fit in on one of the better Monkees albums, to the three-chord vamp that pushes "Yes I Can't" into the red, like something lifted from a Standells record, Khan and his expanded band whip up a righteous frenzy that is everything rock 'n' roll should be.
Straight out of the '60s, Turtles-ready "ba-ba-ba's" turn a "Happy Together" vibe on its butt for "Thorn in Her Pride" — Khan's girl-power anthem — a should-be hit that's perfect for blaring out of whatever hit radio passes for these days.
Khan corrals his once untamed voice for a controlled yet edgy attack that shows him to be an accomplished singer. With the brooding "Darkness" he explores the side of his personality that resulted in recent psychological issues, singing, "This endless darkness never ceases to grow in my soul," with warmth and clarity wrapped in the folds of his tortured falsetto, sweeping horns, and a creeping melody you can't shake. It's the album's most wrenching moment. "Of Madness I Dream" equates Khan's emotional issues with the world's dysfunctions, bringing in a dissonant guitar solo. "Luckiest Man" mirrors his return from the dark side atop a crackling ditty that feels like a lost Joe Tex '60s soul oldie.
Living in Berlin with his family, the mid-30s Khan can't be blamed for wanting greater exposure and perhaps even crossover popularity for what is undoubtedly his most accomplished and, yes, mature work yet. Joining Merge after years of raising his profile while releasing records on Vice is another indication that he's serious about moving forward in his career without completely abandoning his wild man past. If this is maturity, bring it on.