Thanks to the triple threat of analog veneration, affordability of sound reproduction, and canonization via Nuggets, garage rock is now a firmly planted beacon in pop music, dispensing influence and inspiring apery from countless young upstarts who impulsively pick up guitars and decide to start bands. In this veritable aural minefield of tinny, ringing guitars and hollow vocals, King Khan (with or without His Shrines) and Mark "BBQ" Sultan (with or without King Khan) have established themselves as the gold standard of garage-rock redux. Few acts channel this era with the same skill or aplomb, and although Invisible Girl -- their second full-length collaboration -- is an admirable showcase of the pair's chops, the album lacks the capping finesse needed to give some of these songs the heft that earned Khan and BBQ their cachet.
Opening track "Anala" is a particularly apt example of this unfinished feeling. The melody is solid; the doo-wop "ooh-mow-mow"s are infectious and somewhat unexpected, perhaps hinting at a fruitful new direction for the pair. But the overall effect is lukewarm, given that the song never really evolves, relying too heavily on the same melodic phrase throughout. "Truth or Dare" shares a similar issue, the slapdashery sounding more like an incomplete song than the ramshackle elation that lends garage rock its enduring charm. "Tastebuds" is a better effort at capturing some of this, uh, charm -- via an amusingly raunchy "what if" scenario. Tour hijinks, hilariously unrestrained interviews, and Kentucky arrests have pretty much acclimated us to anything the pair can throw at us, but crafting an irresistible earworm like "Tastebuds" is a cheekier, more subversive way of getting our goat.
On the whole, tracks voiced by Sultan fare the best. His vocals on the outstanding "Third Avenue" are impeccable -- sweet, impassioned, and powerful enough to elicit "Dark End Of The Street" sentiments. "I'll Be Lovin' You" is another rich effort, a polished gem of a pop song that effectively captures and channels the pair's reverence for this genre. This reverence doesn't solely take the form of imitation, though -- a trait that sets these two apart from fellow members of the millennial garage-rock genus. The title track is a formidable reinterpretation of rock's golden age, and it's an altogether different path for this pair, glossing their familiar rough-edged swagger with a polished, shimmering veneer. It's downright beachy, pulling from a different set of '60s influences to craft something that sounds like Tom Petty filtered through the Byrds. Although it's a stylistic elephant in the room compared to Invisible Girl's other offerings, it's a welcome indication of Khan and BBQ's scope and talent, testifying to their expanding interpretation and application of garage rock's attributes.
King Khan & BBQ Show (aka Mark Sultan) are back together on Invisible Girl, joining forces to bring you unadulterated Nuggets-style garage rock for the second time, following up their self-titled debut. Khan has obviously grown in the limelight since he and BBQ Show got together the first time, with his Shrines being hotly tipped as one of the best live acts in all of music. Invisible Girl isn't the only album Sultan and Khan have coming out in fall 2009; they've shopped it up with the Black Lips to create Almighty Defenders, something of a garage rock Justice League.
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