It takes a humility rarely seen in the world of rock for an artist already four albums old to give her fifth studio offering the title Junior, as though she were (in her words) “a little kid or novice, starting something again”; but then Kaki King has always been something of a rara avis, as proven by her election as first female Guitar God by Rolling Stone magazine. There is relatively little in the way of humility in the tracks themselves, though, which twist, thunder and growl with an infectious energy and artistic confidence, with all the rippling guitar wizardry that fans of King have come to expect.
King’s formidable guitar skills are on display, peacock-like, in almost every track. ‘Everything Has An End, Even Sadness’ is a masterpiece of inventive fingerpicking, while ‘Falling Day’ is a future anthem for guitar-shop showoffs looking for an alternative to Deep Purple. ‘Spit It Back In My Mouth’ marries a profuse and bubbling verse riff with an expertly controlled screeching chorus lead, creating a memorably infectious groove. But unlike previous albums, Junior has been tailored to fit the style of three musicians – King, multi-instrumentalist Dan Brantigan and drummer Jordan Perlson, the latter two helping King to imbue the soundscape with a distinctly dance-rock air, at times reminiscent of Foo Fighters or The Cure.
The result is an album full of strong leading tracks jostling with one another for attention, separated by the occasional instrumental interlude to cleanse the palate and allow the guitar to have its say uncluttered. Indeed, some of the most powerful music on the album is to be found in the wordless tracks, most notably the eerie, gut-rattling ‘My Nerves That Committed Suicide’, which builds up from its filmsy figerpicking beginnings into a crashing tidal wave of glorious emotion in which it is a pleasure to wade until drenched.
King is on fine vocal form when she chooses to use it, her delicate voice providing a translucent lacquer on top of the layers of grunged-up guitars and hyperactive, thrashing drums. Album closer ‘Sunnyside’, a pared-back ballad reflecting on the end of a relationship, showcases King at her rawest both lyrically and vocally, the wistful backing piano a timid footnote to her bold, painfully honest exposé. Authentic emotion is conveyed with a pitch-perfect delivery throughout, from the gentle confession/admonition of ‘Sunnyside’s “Yes I fucked up good and well, but you put me through fucking hell” to the melancholy howl “Where are you when I need you?” of ‘My Communist Friends’.
Occasionally there’s a slip in the lyrical quality of King’s words, which every now and then have a tough time living up to the soulfulness and effortless artistry of her guitar work. But minor flaws aside, the narrative flair of the album is strong, with songs such as ‘The Betrayer’, a developed interpretation of Ben McIntyre’s book Agent Zig Zag, and ‘Spit It Back In My Mouth’, a jangly post-rock jaunt accompanying jaded, brooding lyrics, which eventually mould themselves to the prevailing mood of the song.
King’s new musical chapter has gotten off to a powerful beginning. Here’s hoping it ends with King taking her rightful place as bona fide rock royalty.
UK release date: 01/03/10; www.myspace.com/kakiking
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