No More Kings, with their first full-length, self-titled disc, blatantly profess that they do not take themselves seriously. Everything about the album, from its random album art to its songs about Peanuts characters, is fun and simplistic. The band’s own website describes the group as a “revolutionary punk-rock-disco-polka band,” indicative of how the group sees themselves.
Most modern music is an eclectic blend of genres, and no music of this generation stems purely from one genre, no matter how hard a group may try. The irony of No More Kings is that their music, so obviously intended to be wide-ranging in form, tempo, and theme, is in fact all very much the same. It is pop. Pop tinged by piano, pop touched by strings, pop at a faster tempo. Everything from the vocals (strikingly similar in sound to Maroon 5’s Adam Levine) to the repetitive choruses ultimately makes this music exactly the sort of catchy, somewhat inventive pop that MTV and VH1 thrive upon: music driven by pop culture, and full of style rather than substance.
The musicians in No More Kings are clearly having a good time, and kudos to them for that. Front man Pete Mitchell calls the album “a thank-you letter to the 80s”, because the songs allude to various pop culture icons including Smurfs, zombies, Sally Brown and Schroeder, and the Karate Kid. But the fact that the songs fail to ever take themselves seriously holds back both the songs and the listeners. That said, a lack of earnestness is not the issue; satire and humor in music is certainly an effective form of expression. Humorous artists from Frank Zappa to “Weird Al” Yankovic have successfully taken music and created clever, creative, and effectively un-serious results. Where Zappa used impressive songwriting and excellent technique to mock cultural hypocrisy and conformity, “Weird Al” created solid satires of modern pop through silly — but still interesting — lyrics. No More Kings achieves none of these things: it is full of vocal hooks and instrumental breaks, but void of ingenuity. The opening “Zombie Me”, for example, is simply about zombies, incorporating the lines, “Now I slide down the street / With no shoes on my feet / Looking for brains to eat.” Meaningless lyrics are acceptable if accompanied by engaging rhythmic motion or rich harmonies, but this music is instead trite and formulaic. The single, “Sweep the Leg”, is plagued by a redundant chorus and vocal filler reminiscent of early *NSYNC. And so it is with the majority of the album.
Many moments throughout the disc provide some sense of contrast to the catchy pop, but none are particularly satisfying — the closing “This” tries to be poignant and gentle, but fails to ever express any emotion real enough for the listener to feel. There are a few solid musical moments. “Leaving Lilliput”, based on Johnathan Swift’s satire Gulliver’s Travels, possesses moments that grab interest, as does some guitar work on “Old Man Walking”. There is also great harmonic tension and build on “Umbrella”. But these moments do not reverse the fact that overall the disc feels contrived.
No More Kings is music children would love for its engaging choruses and goofy lyrical lines. While it is wrong to overlook the value of lighthearted music, it is imperative that we, as listeners, still demand music to have purpose. It is fine to enjoy simple music and to not require anything more. But in a world full of trivial matters that steal attention from genuinely significant ones, we must recognize and cherish music that is actually important. This album is not important, and it is not trying to be. But there is too much incredible music in our world, truly deserving of our attention, to spend time and money on music such as this.