The Supreme Genius of King Khan – King Khan & The Shrines

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So, there’s this international music scene of people who think it’s worthwhile to rewrite the songs from Fun House and Raw Power over and over again, and King Khan is kind of part of that scene. But not really. I mean, everyone in it knows him, but like fellow scene-square-pegs the Gris Gris and Harlan T. Bobo, what he does is only tangentially related to three-chord garage punk, and all the better for it. In the States he’s known best, when known at all, as half of the brilliant garage rockabilly doo-wop duo The King Khan And BBQ Show with fellow Montreal native Mark Sultan, but even before that — not long after he defected to Germany at the end of last decade — he started work on King Khan And The Shrines, and it’s here that he truly displays his, well… So his new label Vice has given us this compilation of selections from the first three Shrines full-lengths and singles, some previously available only in Germany.

The Shrines are a big band, a dozen or so strong, including a full horn section, organ, a couple of guitars and sometimes dancers, all with impressive resumes. It’s quite a spectacle live. Taking full advantage of the benefits of musical hindsight, the Shrines combine some the best elements of 60s cult music, sounding like something that could be equally at home on Nuggets, Stax or Motown compilations, often within the same song, where an otherwise straight-up garage psych number is suddenly turned sideways by perfect soul horn blasts. But everything is played and produced with period-specific precision, and any one of these songs would fit seamlessly on oldies radio.

Even when elements are taken right out of a handbook, like the chord changes in the ballad “Fool Like Me,” it only demonstrates how good both the song and the formula really are, and we wonder how something so familiar can still be so refreshing. If you lament the soullessness of modern soul, the absence of blues from rhythm and blues and the castration of rock n’ roll, then you need this in your life. Music for the booty and soul.