Monday, March 3, 2014
Significant Albums: King's X - Gretchen Goes to Nebraska (1989)
The Summer of 1996 I recall 1st checking out King's X. I think the name was 1st mentioned to me on the ole Rush DejaNews Newsgroup when I was in college the year or 2 before. Just something about a ton of Rush fans liking King's X, etc.
And, I'm not sure it was exactly at the point, but around the time I saw an ad in Citypages or the old Twin Cities Reader (or a flyer?) with their picture and a show coming to the long since closed "The Mirage" club in Minneapolis, with Galactic Cowboys as well.
Their lead singer had a mohawk in the picture which struck me as odd yet curious. I also recall seeing a dealer at the Twin Cities record shows selling a bunch of King's X bootleg VHS tapes, who happened to be the same dealer who I had purchased Dream Theater and Fates Warning videos from.
In then checking them out, I kind of felt they were a bit like Lenny Kravitz, but maybe not as good initially. But I invested some time within their reasonable size catalog and got very won over soon after. I recall either around the time or soon after Ear Candy was released which I enjoyed a fair amount, especially after seeing that show.
But I can't deny, I came to love their 1st 4 records more than their last 2, Dogman and Ear Candy. Which then leads me to Gretchen...
I came to love those 4 Sam Taylor records all nearly equally over the subsequent years, but I guess among those 4, it was Gretchen, like a lot of fans, that grabbed me the most. Maybe it was their most progrressive, or at least due to the fact it was a concept album that included a very cool story that seemed inspired by fantasy/sciti stuff I love like The Wizard of Oz.
Maybe because the artwork, or maybe because the flow of the damn thing.
It maybe (which I'm not sure why I keep using that word?) has my favorite track the band has done, in the opener "Out of the Silent Planet." The rhythm and groove is infectious, and the vocal harmonies create such a great, dreamy atmosphere. It does seem to take me in or onto a journey. I often feel like I am been brought into the world of this girl (Gretchen) and her adventure home to Nebraska and the other places she ends up.
Then you have "Over My Head" which, as memorable as the countless versions I've heard live, the studio version is still as a rocking a track as the band has ever made. The guitar riff just is so punchy and catchy. "Music Music I Hear Music, Music I Hear Music. Music I Hear Music. Music. Music oh oh lohhhrd, music over my head.'
That line IS King's X in a nutshell dUg's screaming, chanting and even the lyrics and the story/stories behind them add so much to that song And I think the band has played it for nearly every concert they've played since they wrote it, for that reason. The way dUg tells the story of his grandmother praying and his growing up with her telling him what was right and wrong, preaching, praying for him, etc. I think he's probably told the story 10,000 times and maybe even in 10,000 different variations.
At any case, the story this album tells from track to track is just something I always enjoy. "Summerland" is rather mystical. The line "Summerland, the wind is getting cold. Summerland, you're finally getting old." I've always thought the lyrics to be a little ironic referring to cold and Summer. But while it's a slower methodical piece compared to "Over My Head," I love the mood and vibe it creates. I kind of think of it as it is setting the stage for a long journey or story.
The other track I recall initially I got into was "Pleiades" which the band played live at that show I saw the Summer of 1996. I always found the tone and lyrics to be trippy. The sound of Ty Tabor's vocals on that song namely, are soft yet hold my attention.
"far off in the field i see a castle (far off in the feeeeeeld)
today the people gather at the pole
he tried to tell us all the world was spherical
they burned his body but not his soul"
I guess that track adds to the story of Gretchen's experience or adventure. The term "pleiades" actually refers to a cluster of stars, so the way the lyrics refer to gazing up at the stars fits. Perhaps in the story, Gretchen becomes so disenchanted or tired of trying to get home, she wishes or wonders what it would be like on another planet. Then again, the planet the story takes place on, may not be Earth ("Out of the Silent Planet"?).
But the rest of this record I came to enjoy more and more, and like a lot of records, they become known for a few specific tracks, but often some of the others end up being more interesting or "under-rated" vs "over" or accurately rated.
"Everybody Knows a Little Bit of Something" is a great inspiring piece. I sort of see it as a universal thing. Everyone whose born has (or eventually will discover they have) some special knowledge or have a unique skill or skills.
I really enjoy the last verse with the tone and call and response change from the chorus. Another great dUg vocal line and lyric.
I saw the man stare in silence Why can't he be honest with who he wants to believe A cry for help was written on the cover of the magazine And I know what it means
'The Difference" is a nice almost acoustic ballad kind of piece, that is a nice contrast to the tracks that preceded it. The echoing "Ihhh, Ihhh can feel the difference" is a part I always think of it for and enjoy.
"I'll Never Be the Same" has great poetic lyrics. That verse in the bridge for the chorus is another favorite section of this album. In re-reading the lyrics, it's interesting how they do actually refer to *Gretchen* herself at the end.
"The way looks awful lonely
So long or maybe less
The time has passed so slowly
There's pressure on my chest
Your eyes speak invitation
To follow with the beat
So tell me what I'm feeling
In seven words, so speak"
"Fall On Me" is a total groove rocker track. This track almost reminds me of among some other King's X tunes, 'Moan Jam" which is a song they wrote on the following record, Faith Hope Love. The way the instrumental part of the song just flows and goes on for awhile without it seeming too long or boring. Maybe that's why it's a song that has worked so well live as well.
"Don't Believe It (It's Easier Said Than Done)" has a very strong chorus or ear-worm of sorts. I swear, this phrase using that "It's Easier Said Than Done" could be the most memorable lyric King's X has ever written. And it APPLIES like "Everybody Knows a Little Bit of Something" in a universal lyric, kind of way. I probably think of that line more than once a week.
"It's easier, it's easier, said than done. It's easier, easier, to get up and run, it's easy-errrrrrrrrrrrr..don't believe, it's a lie (it's A lie!)"
The opening line also seems to apply "this is not the end of the road, it goes on for maybe, miles and miles" which both with the story of the record and metaphorically, I seem to think of.
"A Message" and "Burning Down" close this record out well.
With "A Message" I think of the line in the chorus "There's trouble in the kingdom send a mesage to the king ([echoing] messssss-ijjjjj)"
And "Burning Down" is just a *cool down* piece, that whether Gretchen actually does find Nebraska or not, seems to give me the impression she is at least at peace, which may be ultimately what she and many are seeking out anyway. As the old adage can go in these stories, it's about the journey, not the destination anyway.
To sum up though, this I do see as King's X's finest work, although I do regard the 1st 4 records produced by Sam Taylor to be their best 4 and really, all very close in quality. But given I do love a concept album, or one that tells a fictional story (and Scifi or Fantasy as well), I have a slightly more romantic attachment to this one over the other 3.
I shouldn't forget, I will always think of the fact when I purchased my copy in 1996, the story that Jerry Gaskill wrote was incomplete. I recall tracking the story about the girl who meets the old woman, online a year or 2 later on 1 of the early websites or email lists. But the cd booklet was incomplete with my copy, and it wasn't until just a few years ago when I found a copy on Vinyl per Ebay or 1 of the other vinyl selling import sites, that I finally possessed a printed copy of Jerry's cool story that accompanied this great record.
Like The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway and some others, the extra little story adds even more of the unique quality of this album.