Quentin Tarantino, meet your new house band. With their crash-and-burn songs and ultra-stylized presentation, King Khan and his Shrines bring a remarkable grindhouse spirit to their music. It’s the sound of high-speed car chases, sweaty basement parties and delirious fight sequences transcribed into rock songs. Christening their introductory best-of compilation The Supreme Genius of King Khan and the Shrines might sound a bit audacious, but wading only a few tracks into this set reveals a band with a grand sense of ambition — and cajones.
Boasting a lineup of almost a dozen musicians, King Khan’s mostly European backing troupe summons a righteous fury, casting their net over all of the niche genres that made ’60s music so indelibly groovy: Nuggets-style bangers, organ-heavy slow jams, and funk tracks that sound like audition tapes for the Stax Soul Revue. The three-man horn section proves the critical ingredient in this volatile mixture, delivering the extra oomph that pushes tracks like “Land of the Freak” and “Live Fast Die Strong” over the top.
But at the center of the maelstrom stands guitarist, howler, and apparent group mastermind King Khan. The dude can torch his vocal chords with the best of ‘em, and he brings a wealth of verve and charisma to his swingin’ court. Even when he’s clearly trying to fit himself for James Brown’s cape, Khan riles and teases, preventing the tracks from descending into mere retro schtick.
Few other singers could sell a track like “Took My Lady out to Dinner,” with its tortured refrain: “My baby’s fat/ she’s ugly/ she’s fat and she’s ugly/ but I love her/ I love her/ Oh yes I do.” With Khan’s impassioned yelp leading the way, the organ kicks into soulful overdrive, while the horns and guitar trade punchy snarls. It’s a strangely affecting recipe; never have fugly girlfriends received such a heartfelt tribute.
Elsewhere, the group walks the tightrope between homage and self-parody. “Welfare Bread” makes for a beautiful falsetto-fueled ballad, but it’s negated by a generic lump of genre signifiers called “Fool Like Me.” Opener “Torture” would shake any garage recording studio to its foundations, and yet the collection closes with the relatively limp “No Regrets.”
Even with the benefit of cherry picking from the band’s multiple singles and LPs, Supreme Genius has its lulls. But there’s promise throughout this glimpse into King Khan’s carnival of musical debauchery. Here’s hoping that Vice can keep the good stuff flowing from the Shrines to our shores.