Manhaton [Release date 06.10.17]
King King’s ‘Exile & Grace’ doesn’t so much attempt reinvent the wheel, as musically re-market old wine in new bottles. For while the CD comes stamped through with the band’s signature sound – sharp riffs, boisterous vocals, power chords and booming hooks – it’s an album that celebrates the heyday of British classic rock and rock blues.
The band is gracious in its appreciation of the musical influences – Whitesnake, Bad Company, AC/DC and Thunder with Thin Lizzy style harmony guitars on ‘Betrayed Me’ – but not to the point of being exiled from the blues scene that first spawned them.
They rock hard enough to suggest their recent arena tour has helped shape their riff driven material into a coherent new direction.
They are at their best on the drum tight, Stonesy riff of ‘Long Time Running’, a number that distills all their influences into their own mould. They also work hard to incorporate staccato AC/DC riffs into the evocative narrative of ‘Tear It All Up’ and they add a funky feel to ‘I Don’t Wanna Lie’, which leads into a hook that is consistent with the rest of the album.
The lead single ‘(She Don’t) Gimme No Lovin’ has a familiar synthesized organ intro and effectively takes off where ‘Crazy’ (the single from ‘Reaching For The Light’) left off. It rocks hard and benefits from a catchy hook, but probably goes on shade too long.
However, it’s an exemplar of their hard rocking style which treads a thin line between accessibility and being formulaic, but it’s not a bad equilibrium to have when you’re aiming for rock radio playlists.
They maintain the momentum on the muscular funky groove of ‘Heed The Warning’, which boasts one of the best hooks on the album, while ‘Broken’ makes good use of harmony vocals and a sweeping organ on a heartfelt piece that in spite of the doomy lyrics has an anthemic feel.
It’s 7 years since King King set out as a blues band and since then they’ve moved more towards a stadium rock sound. They’ve sharpened their riffs, honed their songcraft and put all their trust in booming memorable choruses.
And if each album so far has been a progression in terms of songwriting, then ‘Exile & Grace’ fully reveals the band’s stylistic hand. They’ve effectively flipped the blues/rock template and become a rock/blues band who have naturally outgrown their original style to incorporate retro influences into a contemporary sound.
In that respect ‘Exile & Grace’ is everything their fans would expect from a band that balances the focused restraint of the studio with their kick ass live shows.
Most of the material is centred round Alan Nimmo’s intense guitar work and is offset by Bob Fridzema’s keys, as it shifts from bone crunching rock to subtle grooves that bubble up and draw the listener in.
There’s just about enough variety and contrast to emphasize the flow of an album that for all its energy still houses a couple of ballads that fall short of emotional engagement.
The pedestrian ‘Find Your Way Home’ sounds like an AOR ballad, while the rock ballad ‘Betrayed Me’ fleetingly evokes Paul Rogers and Thunder, and has to work hard to overcome a dirgy feel with the afore mentioned Lizzy style dual guitar break.
But it’s surely the hard rocking style of songs like ‘Nobody Knows Your Name’, with it’s Audley Freed (The Black Crowes/Cry Of Love) guitar style, that will help sell units and continue to break them to a bigger audience. It’s a point they seem comfortable with as evidenced by the bonus cover of Whitesnake’s ‘Give Me All Your Love’.
If the title of King King’s last studio album ‘Reaching For The Light’ was a statement of intent, then ‘Exile & Grace’ cements the deal for a hard rocking band with a bluesy heart and an armoury of riffs powerful enough to help project them on to the next level.
If ‘Exile & Grace’ isn’t quite the definitive King King album, it comes pretty damn close. It sets a standard for their contemporaries to emulate and in doing so reinvigorates the best elements of British rock/blues. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 20:00
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Pete Feenstra celebrated his 300th show in October 2019. Pete heads up a five-hour blues rock marathon when “Tuesday is Bluesday” from 19:00 GMT. Listen out also for his interview-based Feature show on Sundays (20:00 GMT)
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