Edward-John Bottomley - 2011-05-25
The Red-Blooded Years
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I’m just going to say it. I have no idea what aKing is singing about most of the time.
I understand there’s a lot about bones and evenings and blood and wine and regret, but I find the best way to listen to these Bellville rockers is just to accept the flood of incongruous words coming at you and concentrate on the melody.
aKing’s third album, The Red-Blooded Years, was always going to be an interesting listen, based on the group’s history. The excellent Dutch Courage blasted the group into public consciousness, whereas Against All Odds achieved more mixed success. The third album had to win back fans of the first and manage this without guitarist/lyricist Hunter Kennedy.
The first few seconds of Red-Blooded are a terrifying experience. Instead of Laudo’s booming voice, instead of crushing chords and anthemic chants, we’re treated to The Lightning Seeds. A keyboard pipes up electro-synth and any second now, you suspect, Laudo’s voice will be auto-tuned into a monstrous squealing. Has aKing gone the way of The Killers?
Listen: we’re all changing. Dutch Courage may have been the soundtrack to your university years, “Safe as Houses” the song you were chanting along to in Back 2 Basix or Hidden Cellar. aKing might very well bring back sweet memories of when you were younger and simpler and in love, before you rented a house in Midrand and worked in Bryanston, but the group has to be allowed to change. So what if the new sound makes you feel, well, old.
Listen: it’s okay. Everything is going to be okay. After the initial shock the first track, “Catch Alight”, settles into an easy aKing flavour. “Don’t worry,” the group seems to be saying. “We’re still the same.” The familiar chords make their entrance, the bass line cossets you into those hazy afternoons when revision was the last thing on your mind. So what if you don’t understand what they’re singing about – at least you can chant along.
The band has changed, though, and it’s not just the keyboards or new guitarist (Andrew Davenport of Thieve). It seems the group’s just more comfortable in wearing their influences on their sleeves, giving props to the 80s and bands such as Journey when they can.
The album sails easily into the radio-friendly “The Runaround” and makes a pit-stop in a smoky trucker’s bar for the anthemic “Cut-Throat Tongue & Razor”, which could, on first listen, pass for a song on VH1 Classic Rock. It’s more familiar territory from there – steering-wheel-slapping feel-cool tracks like “Kick Me” and “So Close”.
And then the album veers back into the 1980s. The bad part of the 1980s. The haircuts and Peter Cetera part. aKing offers up a number of ill-considered ballads which weaken what would otherwise be a pretty solid album. It’s not that the band can’t do this sort of sound – “Safe as Houses” offers as incisive a portrayal of innocence and the comforts of a relationship as any band out there, but, then again, this isn’t Dutch Courage and Air Supply is no substitute for Hunter.
“First Brush” and album namesake “Red Blooded Years” save the album from this degenerate tweeny pandering, bringing cool back and ending with “The Sleeping Sound”, an accomplished instrumental.
The Red-Blooded Years is no Dutch Courage, but it’s solid enough to stand on its own, a number of weaker tracks notwithstanding. Because the aKing you want is there. The aKing you can listen to while driving on the N1, slapping your steering wheel and glancing at Century City where you’re considering commuting from. It’s a central location and some of your colleagues have said good things. Besides, the mall’s right next door. And for a moment, for four or five tracks, Laudo’s growl makes you feel cool again, like you could be cool again.
That’s what you want, right?