Attention Deficit: The Idiot King

Attention Deficit
The Idiot King
Magna Carta

Jazz albums are not always the easiest to describe in words. Oft times, many works in the genre are a piece unto their own that can simply defy general categorization or easy comparison to other works. Fusion jazz is even more of a bitch to get a handle on because it’s often presented as artistry with no real tangible art behind it. It’s cold, calculated and often marketed to those who feel they couldn’t enjoy traditional jazz; the ones who want to “rock” a little, but not too much.

The Idiot King is Attention Deficit’s second album, and as far as the dreaded sophomore slump goes, I couldn’t tell you if it applies to this group or not. Basically, this disc doesn’t do much for me other than get me turning on the TV to add a little background noise to the background noise. Such acts as King Crimson, Spyro Gyra and the beloved Frank Zappa have all been mentioned as comparison points for the group’s work. Being the Zappa freak I am, I can safely say that Frank would undoubtedly tire of the Deficit’s music as quickly as I did. However, you might be able to bore Robert Fripp for a little longer.

The group’s credentials themselves are not to be sneezed at, though some of the members’ past work might not be too surprising. Percussionist Tim Alexander formerly beat the skins in alt-rock darlings Primus, while bass player Michael Manning studied under the great Jaco Pastorius, then went on to play on most of Michael Hedges’ albums before becoming the house bassist at Windham Hill. Guitarist Alex Skolnick previously played in such groups as Testament and Savatage before forming Attention Deficit. Together, these guys create a sound that they term “mad scientist rock”.

Indeed, the band has created a most fusionistic monster that trounces around the place knocking over everything in sight. That is not to say this music is bombastic. Instead, it delivers its expected workout through a combination of complex melodies, interchanging rhythms, and a knack for being everything insipid other fusion groups have embraced in the past. Basically, there’s nothing new going on here.

“American Jingo” is grounded in semi-tribal beats while ’70s-ish wah wah guitar licks pile up, only to be knocked down by Skolnick’s listless distorted solos. Michael Manning then solos a bit in a boring cluster of cacophonous notes while Hedges bashes away in a mad scramble. There’s some backwards tape loops, some more guitar tweaking and spaceship-like noises that float in and out of the mix. Truly terrible. “Any Unforeseen Event” tries to pull off the Zappa influence, but the problem is that the Deficit is trying too hard to mimic Frank and so fall flat on their faces with their abstract chords, bass phrasing (never thought I’d say a fretless bass was annoying, but after hearing this album, I don’t care if I ever hear another one) and percussive dawdling.

Let’s just say you’re undoubtedly going to have to be a fusion fan to get anything out of this album. Otherwise, you’re only going to be scratching your ass and wondering when things are going to finally start picking up on the disc. Just as soon as you’re sure you might be able to tolerate something like “Low Voter Turnout”, the song shifts three or four times in that grating fusion-like way. I appreciate a sense of improv and technical ability in jazz. Merely annoying me with a wide array of phrasings, chording, and unnecessary licks is another thing entirely. Having said that, such tracks as “My Fellow Astronauts” and “Public Speaking Is Easy” quickly become as musically contrived as their titles may suggest.

I find no joy in The Idiot King I find nothing to write home about regarding Attention Deficit. To me, this stuff is as good as Kenny G. or Yanni. The music is thoroughly complex, the rhythms abstract, the playing impeccable. And it’s downright boring in the end. What worse crime is there than to unintentionally put your listeners to sleep with your music? For the moment, I can’t think of any.