By some accident of genetics, Mark “BBQ” Sultan and Arish Ahmad “King” Khan are two garage-rock scuzzballs blessed with incredible soul. Sultan can sing like a genuine doo-wopper, even when he’s parked behind a jerry-rigged drum kit and supplementing his scratchy guitar with primitive kick drum, tambourine, and snare. As leader of the psychedelic big band the Shrines, Khan is a Sun Ra-worshipping showbiz maelstrom—James Brown meets James Williamson of the Stooges.
Since the mid-’90s, these crazy Canadians have played together in various groups, and when they get together as the King Khan & BBQ Show, it usually means trouble. They’re nearly as infamous as their buddies the Black Lips in terms of unruly behavior, and in 2010, the duo broke up after an onstage spat. Besties once again, Khan and BBQ are back after five years with their fourth LP, Bad News Boys, named for what they nearly dubbed the band in the early ’00s. It’s only right that they invoke their past, given how effortlessly they revert to what they do best.
Whether making like scruffy Silhouettes on the street-corner serenade “Alone Again” or going all snotty and mush-mouthed on the rockabilly novelty “Snackin’ After Midnight,” Khan and BBQ create the kind of music they want to hear. In their minds, rock ’n’ roll has lost its swing, gone sterile, and come to take itself way too seriously. The antidote: rickety R&B boogies like “Ocean Of Love,” and if those don’t work, then maybe “D.F.O.,” a gnarly hardcore goof in which they try and fail to spell out “diarrhea.”
The combo of those songs and chipper ’60s-pop nuggets like the comeback single “We Are The Champion” says it all. These guys dig dressing like pervy superheroes and swami drag queens and doing songs you could imagine Sam Cooke singing. On “Illuminations,” Khan preaches self-empowerment over the melody from “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” On “Killing The Wolfman,” it’s creature-feature lyrics and the hook from the Dead Kennedys’ “Chemical Warfare.” Ask Khan and BBQ to choose between gimmickry and sincerity, and they’ll probably spit milk in your face.
They’re stuck in the middle, two mutants hopelessly adrift in a sea of normalcy. The good news: If things don’t end in cannibalism, they’ll keep making records exactly like this.