King of the Sun and King of the Midnight Sun are both fine records, but not quite the Saints at their finest.
Legendary Australian rock band the Saints originally released King of the Sun in 2012 as a double-disc featuring latter-day greatest hits on the second CD. The 2014 re-release of King of the Sun is also a double disc, but this time disc two is a no-frills take on the more baroque King of the Sun. As with many long-running bands, The Saints sound has grown more refined in later years, and King of the Midnight Sun aims to recapture the grittiness of early Saints songs like “(I’m) Stranded”. Of course, with founding members Ivor Hay and Ed Kuepper no longer in the band and Chris Bailey being the sole remaining original member, King of the Midnight Sun doesn't quite deliver. Taken on its own or compared and contrasted with one another, both albums stand as adequate rock records.
Anyone who knows the Saints primarily from their punk years may be taken aback when listening to King of the Sun’s opening title track and beyond. It’s almost better to start with King of the Midnight Sun, so as to ease yourself in. Saints fans who own the band’s full discography and are willing to stick it out to the bitter end will likely be far more prepared for the studio brightness shining throughout King of the Sun. “King of the Sun” and others have a true catchiness to match their pop-rock studio gloss. Even if you don’t connect with the album, these songs will be lingering in your brain for days on end.
Many of these songs have the feel of an old-time favorite that you just can’t seem to place. Some of Bailey’s melodies, however, wander over the line of feeling a little too familiar in a (to give an awful example) Coldplay-ripping-off-Kraftwerk kind of way. I am still trying to figure out just what “Sweet Chariot” and “Craters on the Moon” remind me of, and if it’s because the melodies are identical to something else, or Bailey is just adept at making them feel that way. In this day and age, we have the tendency to believe that nothing is original, but on the other hand, Bailey is known as a mighty singer and story-teller.
That story-telling is a little obtuse here -- the album is purportedly about a soldier returning from the Hundred Years’ War, but one may have to dig deep to uncover this through the lyrics -- but Bailey’s singing is as robust as ever. This is ultimately what saves a song like the aforementioned “Craters on the Moon”. The song is scattered with cliches like “I’m walking out the door” (at least it’s followed knowingly by “it has been done before”), but Bailey’s vocals remain on the right side of rock-balladry singing throughout, and ultimately cause the listener to feel invested in the song. “Mystified” has a surprising amount of bounce to it but still unfolds in an easy, casual way. Bailey almost sounds sweet on it.
King of the Midnight Sun starts strongly, but loses some momentum compared to King of the Sun. However, this may be because the three opening songs -- “King of the Sun”, “A Million Miles Away” and “Sweet Chariot” -- are three of the strongest on both albums. Still, other strong songs (to bring up “Craters on the Moon” again) suffer due to too much cliche fuzz rock guitar. The closing song, “Adventures in the Dark Arts of Watermelonry”, starts out worryingly -- with a guitar line that brings its cliches to the fore -- but picks up with a chorus that soars higher than the one in its acoustic counterpart that closes out King of the Sun.
In the album’s press release, Bailey states that the King of the Midnight Sun was recorded and released with King of the Sun to showcase “both sides of the Saints in one package.” He failed to add that this is mostly true of latter-day Saints, and not past, more devoutly worshipped, incarnations. King of the Sun and King of the Midnight Sun are both fine records, but not quite the Saints at their finest.