When last King Khan And The Shrines graced the planet with an album—namely 2008’s The Supreme Genius Of King Khan And The Shrines—it was the greasiest, funkiest party record the punched-up garage act had yet to unload. Things have changed over the intervening five years. Incendiary frontman Khan has mellowed, his songcraft has deepened, and his mission to smuggle a smidgeon of sophistication into bash-it, bat-shit garage rock is more obvious than ever. Idle No More, The Shrines’ eighth full-length, is a testament to Khan’s broadening ambition as a songwriter—even as it tests the limits of it.
Khan’s building blocks are the same: ’60s R&B and garage rock with a backwash of ’70s punk. There’s plenty of inspiration to be found in that overlap, though, and Khan proves it. “Better Luck Next Time” takes, chews up, and spits out bubblegum psychedelia. “Pray For Lil” is tender and raunchy at the same time, and better for that dissonance. And “Darkness,” with its horn-prodded lurch and minor-key sulkiness, heightens Khan’s infernal falsetto to a level of hand-wringing catharsis. That vulnerability—not usually seen from a man who once took the stage in a warrior’s helmet—isn’t entirely new, but it’s taken to a place of aching sincerity that’s somehow even scarier than him showing his ass to the audience.
Idle No More’s instrumentation reflects that shift. For every ’60s toga-party jam such as “Luckiest Man” or “Yes I Can’t”—which aren’t shy about their likeness to Cliff Nobles’ “The Horse” and Syndicate Of Sound’s “Little Girl,” respectively—there’s the layered sprawl of “Born To Die,” a track that imagines The MC5 at its High Times brassiest trying to out-dose Roky Erickson. The washes of wah pedal and overwrought symphonics drown out the desperation at the song’s heart. A similar thing happens on the otherwise epic closer “Of Madness I Dream,” which lets its trippy drift become diluted by free-jazz overdubs. It’s not enough to put a serious dent in the record, but it does underscore just how many conflicting moods and modes Khan seems pulled in. For the most part, Idle No More is as much of a party as anything The Shrines have released. But it’s one that anticipates, and morbidly worships, the hangover that’s about to come.