King Khan & The Shrines

Idle No More

Shamanistic soul-and-party-loving punk King Khan has always had rhythm – of that there’s no doubt – but now he has the serious blues. Away from his two man spectra-sonic King Khan & BBQ Show, it’s back to the full touring circus with The Shrines, complete with full on horn section and a percussionist of distinction, Ron Streeter, a player from the pomp of Curtis Mayfield and Stevie Wonder.

King Khan & The Shrines deal in 13th Floor Elevators psychedelia dirtied by the water spat out by The Standells and then infused with the infectious funk of The JB’s. And when those horns strike out, there’s more than a hint of Dexy’s Midnight Runners or ‘Know Your Product’ by The Saints.

King Khan himself is a colourful character. Real name Arish Ahmad Khan, he’s a Canadian by birth, Berliner by resident and is often seen on stage with resplendent retro futuristic headgear that make him appear as if he’s visiting Earth from the same planet as Sun Ra. He’s a band leader from the old school, surrounding himself with a group of nine whose driving rhythms allow him to proselytize about the party.

Like fun-loving, irreverent contemporaries The Black Lips or the Nuggets-chewing Strange Boys, King Khan & The Shrines largely deal in kitchen sink comic-drama. In the past his subject matter has ranged from plus size loves with a sweet tooth, unrequited love of record shop assistants to simply wondering what it’s like to be a girl. Simple tales told with irresistible rhythms. That is, until now.

Yes, there’s something joyous about when those trumpets blast in, especially on the Northern Soul food of ‘Thorn In Her Pride’, but it’s obvious Khan is in slightly more reflective mood than on his previous records. When an album begins with a song called ‘Born To Die’, there are two songs dealing with being lucky, before it literally descends to a song called ‘Darkness’ underscored by baroque piano and an androgynous croon, you know that King Khan has been through some tough times. And that can be verified by the fact that three of his close friends have died, including garage firebrand Jay Reatard, who is honoured on ‘So Wild’, and Atlanta scene stalwart Bobby Ubangi, remembered on the tune ‘Bad Boy’. This borrows themes of troubles ahead from that depression era American classic ‘Let’s Face The Music And Dance’ and melds them with Brian Jones era Rolling Stones. He’s been shepherded through these strange times by his wife, who he also honours in the song ‘Pray For Lil’.

“I live for today because tomorrow always seems too far away” he sings on “I Got Made” the penultimate song of this, probably his most musically proficient and majestic album to date. As long as he doesn’t lose the Shakespearean fool at the core of his being, this step into a deeper hitherto unexplored darker psyche is deeply satisfying. Idle No More is evidence that this band is serious (sometimes) and it’s in it for the long haul.

The Quietus Digest

Sign up for our free Friday email newsletter.

Support The Quietus

Our journalism is funded by our readers. Become a subscriber today to help champion our writing, plus enjoy bonus essays, podcasts, playlists and music downloads.

Support & Subscribe Today