King Khan bows to the gods of omnivorous musical appetites and breakneck speed. His mission has been explicit since the start: to aggressively scramble, blend, or smash together all forms of ‘60s music—jangly and psychedelic pop, garage rock, southern soul, early funk. Listening to King Khan albums is like being at a bar with a drunk, crazed baby-boomer in possession of an endless supply of bills for the jukebox.
Khan debuted under his own name back in 1999, when historical revisionism was on the rise in both rock—the White Stripes, and soon the Strokes—and R&B, with its neo-soul movement. Khan has a journalist friendly story—his parents are Indian immigrants but he was raised in Canada and then moved to Germany—and an incendiary live show. He carved out his territory quickly, making “something reminiscent of Sun Ra, James Brown, and Otis Redding with a hint of The Velvet Underground, Love, The Monks and about a million other influences.”
And he’s still staking out the same corner on his latest album, Idle No More. The song “Darkness” shares its underpinnings with many a Stax ballad, or the Animals’ version of “House of the Rising Sun”, if the British Invasion is more your thing. The horn chart in “Luckiest Man” draws on Otis Redding’s “Security”, while “Bad Boy” channels James Brown’s mid-60s pop and slide. “So Wild” is more punk, though a lot of that potent ‘60s garage rock was basically punk already. “I Got Made” evokes the Flamin’ Groovies. Khan shouts and sneers, gallops and bounces, only occasionally slipping into a croon to accompany a slower tempo.
“I’ll keep my mouth shut for you,” sings Khan in “Bite My Tongue”, but this is a big sacrifice for a famous screamer, and surely a lie. A more believable line comes from “So Wild”, where Khan promises to “drink to your memory and how it took the world by storm.” He could be addressing this to any one of his ‘60s pop idols. Once he’s done paying liquid homage, he translates that into his music.