‘…and there’s a great review of a new band called King Sex’,
… my friend Geraint said in the Sixth Form common room clutching that week’s issue of Kerrang! or at least I thought he did. What a brilliant name! As he said it I could picture them – all lacy fingerless mittens, lurid spandex, fluffy hair, leather thongs around their necks and a high groupie count – hell, they might even supplant Faster Pussycat as my T-shirt band of choice (‘The Itch You Can’t Scratch’ being my favourite FP T-shirt). Sadly, the review was not my first encounter with any future glam rock overlords, but it was the first I’d heard of what would soon become one of my favourite bands – King’s X.*
It seems a strange thing to write in 2013 but what struck me most about King’s X when I first saw them wasn’t bassist Doug Pinnock’s Hendrix-style jacket, or his mohawk, it was the fact that he was black. At the time there was a virtual apartheid operating in metal, with the exception of Living Colour and the Dan Reed Network who I was just starting to read about. I know all about trailblazers like Mother’s Finest (although I still haven’t heard anything by them) and there were others like 24-7 Spyz and Fishbone bubbling under, along with the likes of Red Hot Chili Peppers working with George Clinton who were only just creeping into metal consciousness – although the evil that became funk metal was a little while away in 1988. All the Def Jam acts had crossed over too, by adding rock wallop to their rap. Looking back now I suspect it was all to do with very segregated radio programming in the States and record company ideas about demographics. At the time the lack of black faces didn’t strike me as odd at all, we all liked Prince and Hendrix in any case.
I bought Out of the Silent Planet (its name taken from a C.S Lewis book I still haven’t got around to reading) on 3 March 1989. I remember going into town on the bus, walking 1/2 mile to the bus stop, taking the bus 5 miles into Carmarthen, running up to Backstreet Records while they changed drivers, buying the record faster than light and leaping onto the bus just in time to take the return journey. I remember the excitement of the cover, looking at the conceptual art of the cover, reading the liner notes 5 times and marvelling at the fake stone effect of the back cover. In those pre-internet days I just had to guess and guess about what it actually sounded like. I knew what the reviews said but getting this LP was a real bet for me – sometimes when you forked out your hard-earned on a newie you got lucky (Jane’s Addiction, Kingdom Come) and other times not (Concrete Jungle) and when you have very little to spend the risk is magnified. I actually felt quite worried walking home.
I need not have though, Out of the Silent Planet was and still is, an excellent LP. Kicking off with ‘In The New Age’ the band play what I can only describe as a down-tuned, slowed-down thrash. The musicianship throughout is excellent, Jerry Gaskill’s drumming particularly caught my ears this time around. ‘Goldilox’ is the big ballad here but power-ballad cliche it isn’t, its a beautifully sung heartfelt tune although I could never truly join in the line ‘Im not looking for a one night stand’ convincingly and deals with loneliness and principles rather than the usual in-and-out. ‘Power of Love’ (please trust me, not a Huey Lewis & The News cover, or anything direr), ‘Sometimes’ with its raucous guitar and ‘Wonder’ are just excellent rockers. The second side’s tracks peak with the mighty ‘What is This?’, before blowing out entirely with the manic, thrashy, hard-hitting ‘Visions’.
I remember that King’s X were virtually outed as a Christian band at one point. To my arrogantly atheistic 16 year-old self this was a complete anathema, if I had known I would never have bought the LP I am embarrassed to report, thing was I already loved them by the time I found out. Christian rock in 1989 meant clumsy sloganeering like Stryper. Again it is funny now, how on earth I ever missed the point of tracks like ‘King’ (the clue’s in the title!) with lines like ‘the king is coming’, or references to ‘waiting for new Jerusalem’; or indeed the multiple God-questioning ‘What is This’ (in which I missed the line ‘Oh lord it gets so complicated / oh lordI don’t know what to do God!’) – ‘Shot of Love’ s lines about bread and wine went way over my ignorant head. But King’s X dealt with it in a more thoughtful, grown-up way than I could ever have mustered at that point and I learned not to be so blinkered, eventually, the fact that they rocked ultimately outweighing the fact that they believed in God.
Out of The Silent Planet is a great debut LP and there’s a good debate to be had whether it’s a better one than the follow-up Gretchen Goes to Nebraska. It was the fact that they didn’t fit into any of the era’s categories and cliches that made them such a good band and which, ultimately, stopped them making it – that and running out of good tunes. It was a while before I got to see them live but they really didn’t disappoint, I must have seen them 6 times at least and my abiding memories were of how nice they seemed – or maybe that was just compared to most of the spandexed chancers I was used to.
*Just in case you’re not one of the chosen metal brethren/brethrenesses from the late 80’s, the name is prounced ‘King’s ex’, not ‘King’s Cross’ -which is what I called them for at least 6 months.