Friday, February 14, 2014

Kingmaker - 1991-1995

There are a lot of bands, and I do mean a lot of bands, that never really get their foot in the door. Lots of bands never get out of the garage. Lots never get past that first demo tape they're handing out to their friends or people who see them playing some dive bar for beer money. Less still even get a first album. But Kingmaker actually made it to three albums before imploding.

It's not like they ever really hit it big. Oh, they did okay in their native UK, but the band never cracked into consciousness here. I probably would have never known of them except for good old stalwart 120 Minutes. At some point, the song "Really Scrape The Sky" was shown on the show, and I was fascinated. They were jangly without being overly poppy. Their lead singer, Loz Hardy, had a rather high and nasally voice that I was surprised didn't put me off, but... he just sounded so damn earnest.

They were weird, but it in a playful way. The drum beat was catchy and lead into a guitar that shimmered like it was somewhere just a little too close to the sun. I think the song only aired the once on 120 Minutes, but I kept the tape of that show so I could listen to that song repeatedly. Eventually I tracked down their first album, "Eat Yourself Whole" on tape. (I was still sort of in that transition between tapes and CDs - hell, this was 1992.) "Really Scrape The Sky" was truly the standout of the album, but there were other catchy songs on there too - the title track, "Lady Shakespeare's Bomb" and "Where You Stand."

A few years later, their second album, "Sleepwalking," hit and I picked it up. I'd enjoyed their first album enough to figure I could see what new stuff they were cooking. This was where they really started to hit me hard. The first four songs were an amazing, and the opener, "Playground Brutality," found its way onto a lot of mix tapes I made at that time.
It was just such a wonderful, yearning, intense song, I couldn't help but connect with it. "Sad To See You Go," the fourth song on the album also had a fantastic world-weary vibe to it, taking that jangle-pop guitar and making it sorrowful and broken.  The album didn't make a splash here - I didn't hear any of the songs from it on the only alternative radio station we had in Omaha, despite my calling in to ask for them, and even 120 Minutes never seemed to play any video from it. I did convince one of the guys who worked the used book/CD store I frequented a lot (downtown Omaha's late great Antiquarium, which probably influenced my musical tastes as much as 120 Minutes did, simply because they encouraged you to listen to music before you bought it, and they were happy to try and expand your interests into things like other things they knew you liked) to play songs from "Sleepwalking" ever now and then.

The band's third and fourth albums didn't come over here during their time - and it wasn't until much later that I heard them. "To Hell With Humdrum" isn't really even an album - it's mostly radio sessions of them playing older songs. But "In The Best Possible Taste," the band's fourth album, had some great songs on it. Alas, it wasn't to be. By the time the album hit stores in the UK in 1995, Britpop was all the rage, Oasis was king and Kingmaker's brand of proto-rockabilly jangle-pop wasn't in fashion in England. At that point, the band called it quits.

Loz Hardy kicked around for a bit, cowriting two songs on Elastica's last album in 2000, but vanished into the aether after that. The rest of the band tried reforming Kingmaker in 2010 without him, re-recording "Armchair Anarchist" from "Sleepwalking" but nothing ever followed that, and probably for the better. It was good to hear that Howell and Andrew (the other two members of the band) still had their chops, but changing vocalists is usually a bad idea.

Some other band is using the name Kingmaker now, much to my annoyance. They're a screamo-metal band that doesn't do absolutely anything for me (although that's not to say I'm against metal, as I'm sure you'll see in later posts). That said, "Eat Yourself Whole," "Sleepwalking" and "In The Best Possible Taste" are all available on iTunes, and the first two albums have a glut of bonus stuff that wasn't on the original releases, so you'll definitely get value for it, if you listen and they tickle your fancy. They're also the UK sequencing, so if you happen to have the old US CDs lingering around, you'll notice that the order's different on "Eat Yourself Whole." I don't know why anyone other than me would notice that, but hey, you might, you never know. I think the first two albums, at the very least, have got more than enough great songs to merit the purchase.

Sadly, at this point, they're probably best remembered for this bit of musical trivia. When they were touring England in 1992, their opening band was this little unknown group called... Radiohead.

Funny ol' world.

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