The introduction comes by way of Pink Floyd's Echoes, with muted picking of guitar and bass put through a delay. I'm calling this the inspiration, not imitation. They definitely do their own thing with the sounds, setting a very ethereal mood that builds perfectly up to In The New Age.
The first song on a first album will set in the listeners mind what the band is all about, so to pick a track that has Ty sing the verses and Doug the choruses immediately emphasizes their multiple-vocalist approach, which is good. Doug obviously dominates the lead vocals in the band, but they lead off this way to keep options open and not set the image in the listeners mind of a band with the same power-trio arrangement of Rush or The Police. The lyrics also give an immediate idea of the groups religious standing, without sounding out-right preachy. The bridge shows their ability to use shifts in dynamics, followed by a guitar solo I still rank as one of Ty's best. Yeah, this definitely jams, and I was hooked from the first moment.
Goldilox is a bit sappy, but at least it isn't a completely generic love song. I do like the effect on the vocal in the bridge.
Now, speaking of using dynamics: Power Of Love gives us the mellow verse/heavy chorus arrangement I like a lot, in spite of Nirvana's popularity now making that the only way to write a song in the nineties. This is where we really get to hear Doug's unique bass sound. The higher tones above the basic rumble makes the notes distinct, but he uses just enough distortion to really pound out the bottom. Punchy! I like it, and as a fan I grew into it's progression (or digression, perhaps) on later albums. I find that people who start with We Are Finding Who We Are or What I Know About Love tend to not "get it" so to speak.
Okay, we're into the guitarist and bassist. On Wonder, Jerry puts emphasis on the "wrong" beat, and suddenly we notice his input. This track also gives us our first bit of alternate instrumentation (although I can't tell you the difference between a dulcimer and a sitar, I know it's one of them).
Sometimes does something I really like: at the start of the verse, the guitar sustains that chord over a couple lines before coming in with the picked riff. A lot of guys wouldn't let a song breathe that much. The bridge also gives us more of Jerry on the toms, making it at least feel like an odd time signature. His Ringo Starr approach (sparse fills and simple, straight 4/4 time) keeps things from getting too cluttered in the big sounds of Sam Taylor's production style, and this makes the occasional cool drum riff stick out even more.
King has a heavy, straight guitar riff, and that "yea, yea, yea, yea" is a great hook. Thus, this is the closest this album gets to a "pop" song. I guess you could argue that that title goes to Goldilox, but this one tries harder to please. And it rocks! I love the drum rolls in the bridge.
Have you ever noticed the lyrics sung in the second verse of What Is This? don't match the lyric sheet? Not that it's easy reading a King's X lyric sheet, which is the point. They want you to get the words in context, with proper emotional emphasis. I think the way Doug changed the words gives the impression of a little more hope in the situation than the original version written down. I also love the main riff because it has that one higher chord at the end that just sticks out like crazy. A guitar playing friend of mine said it's some Jimi Hendrix chord of some kind. Without it, this riff is almost identical to Visions.
I really would like to know the story behind Far, Far Away. The lyrics seem so haunting, and the "aaah"s on the bridge, and the back-up vocal droning of "far" add to this haunting feeling. This is a sad song, but in an intangible way. Another cool Jerry drum riff, too. This is where I really noticed how dry his drum sound is, which is very odd, really, when you consider how big the rest of the instrumentation and vocals are with lots of effects (and especially relative to all the giant "Ba-BOOM" drums of "pop-metal" bands in the late eighties).
After the sadness of Far, Far Away, the sheer joy of Shot Of Love seems even greater. They really show off their vocal talents on this one, too. On the chorus they trade off lines in different arrangements of their three voices, making the words bounce, in a way, so you really feel the happiness that this love gives them. I don't know. To some this probably seems sappier than Goldilox, but to me it's more real. I like the lyrics, the rhythm, and that little fill at the end of the guitar solo that comes back again towards the end. Cool song.
Visions is pretty aggressive. We've heard good use of dynamics, or volume shifts, earlier in the album. Now they use tempo changes, and you can really rock out to the solo on this one. I must admit I still don't fully get the meaning of the lyrics.
A couple additional comments: The album title, I'm told, comes from something by C.S. Lewis, as does In The Garden Of St.-Anne's-On-The-Hill on the next album, and a few other things. I read The Chronicles Of Narnia when I was young, and part of The Screwtape Letters in high-school, but I really need to read more of his work, since it appears to be a big influence on the band. This album is probably the most consistent in sound, or limited depending on your perspective. Considering what was popular at the time, they really tried to fit into the market, while still being very unique in sound and style (not to mention having a mohawked black bassist/vocalist, which unfortunately doesn't have mass appeal. Racism is alive and well, which sucks!) After this one, with a small fan base and an attitude of "why do we need to impress anyone?", they probably felt freer to write more lighter material and to do more experimentation in sounds and structures. Which leads to the album most critics and fans consider their best....
Next: Gretchen Goes To Nebraska
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