[1 July 2008]
The mighty King Khan is back after spending this past year writing, among other things, the soundtrack to the newly released German film Schwarze Schafe (which translates to Black Sheep). You can pick up a copy of the album at your neighborhood Dussmann KulturKaufhaus. But for Khan’s latest stateside offering, he invites us all to re-explore the antics and exploits of his psychedelic super band the Shrines in all its studded glory. The Supreme Genius Of retraces the band’s history, selecting tracks from What Is?! and Mr. Supernatural as well as various 10’’ releases. It is a superb playlist of the group’s mostly earlier batshit grooves that provide for some excellent party fodder. But where as in the past Khan has restructured tracks to mix it up a little bit, here, he just sprawls the originals around a handful of new cuts. After spending years marveling at how Khan has stayed under the radar, it seems that now even he has become aware of how under-appreciated he is in the music biz. The Supreme Genius Of feels like an attempt to rectify all that by shedding light on his already prolific discography of blissful soul jams and seriously unhinged big band sounds.
The story of King Khan is too wide reaching to be packaged into one album. His posse, which also includes King Khan and BBQ partner Mark Sultan, has spread its collective bearings everywhere: from King Khan and His Lonesome Guitar to the fantastically named Les Sexareenos who marked The Sympathetic Sounds of Montreal. But none of that history is documented here. Over the years, Khan and his associates have evolved from Montreal’s local Spaceshits featuring Blacksnake, to an entire enterprise of kickass garage rockers. And while The Sensational Shrines are an integral part of Khan’s image and his current band, they form only one limb of the corps.
But sweet Jesus what a limb it is! It’s enough to simply match Khan’s energy and James Brown stagemanship, but time after time the Shrines pack such an effusive punch that they actually out duel their kindred leader. “Burnin’ Inside” revels in Fredovitch’s ecstatic organ. “Destroyer,” which first appeared on Mr. Supernatural, features the Shrines top-notch rowdy horn section. “Tell Me” is a simple, effective slice of funk with some excellent percussion work from former Curtis Mayfield band member Ron Streeter.
There is hardly a musical misstep on The Supreme Genius Of. King Khan and the Shrines infuse each song with such infectious rhythm and soul-packed sprightliness that it forgives several cheeky moments. Jokester tracks like “Took My Lady to Dinner” and “I Wanna Be a Girl” manage to make up for their downright stupid lyrics with full-bodied instrumentation and a surprising amount of charm. So when Khan sings, “I wanna tell you that the girls in the room / They wanna make me go boom boom boom boom,” it ends up being both amusing and acceptable.
The slower numbers on the album give Khan the opportunity to show off his sweet croon and a devilish suaveness manicured after personal favorite Jacques Dutronc. “Fool Like Me” saunters like some long lost slow dance classic. Horns swell, Khan reaches a crescendo and aches like some poor kid in puppy love. On “Crackin’ Up” Khan puts forth his best Jonathan Richman impression complete with chipper background vocals. And on “Shivers Down My Spine,” an extended organ solo bolsters Khan’s lucid sexual wailings.
The biggest sign that this is Khan’s attempt to establish more ground in the indie music world is the inclusion of What Is?! singles “Welfare Bread” and “No Regrets”. Both tracks are the band’s closest stabs at radio-friendly material, with inoffensive lyrics and a more mainstream groove. “No Regrets” is a furious steam-rolling finale with plenty of wah wah-pedal guitar solos. “Welfare Bread” on the other hand is more restrained with backup falsettos and Khan sounding considerably like Lou Reed. With its wistfully bouncy refrain and shimmering bridge, the song probably has the most potential to infiltrate the airwaves. Really it’s confounding that it hasn’t already.
The Supreme Genius Of is a stacked collection. It makes for a fantastic introduction to Khan’s outlandish charm and the Shrines’ funk stew concoctions. But it explores only one avenue of Khan’s musical work. To get the fuller Bama-lama Khan experience, one must check out his earlier EPs, King Khan and BBQ project, and maybe even that Schwarze Schafe soundtrack. But for the time being, let’s hope that this release introduces a much-deserved wider audience to the band’s garage-soul stylings. Cause it certainly feels like Khan’s hoping for it.