The King Khan & BBQ Show is a duo that originally hails from Montreal but has built a reputation on references to American musical tradition: soul, blues and doo-wop. That mixture is then filtered through punk, garage rock and a touch of insanity. The result is a surprisingly fulfilling sound.
Invisible Girl is the group’s third effort since joining forces, though King Khan and BBQ were both members of Spaceshits in the ’90s.
The music is decidedly (and intentionally) lo-fi. Vocals are crackly and distorted, and amplifier hum can be heard in the background. Songs like “Third Ave” are drenched in vintage Dick Dale tremolo. Likewise, the use of panning on some tracks is likely to induce motion sickness in any listener attempting to absorb the record via headphone. The ramshackle nature of the album is borne out by its literal lean, with several of the tracks favoring one channel over the other.
The percussion is a small step up from the last King Khan & BBQ Show album. Invisible Girl adds a full drum kit to the familiar tambourine-and-bass-drum formula. Don’t expect a John Bonham-style solo, but the addition of drums improves the duo’s cohesion as an actual band.
BBQ has the pipes to be a solid blues wailer, and he leaps from soul to punk with little effort. King Khan provides some nasal backing vocals. The opening track, “Anala,” is backed by the “oom bow bow” of so many songs from the early ’60s.
“Animal Party” is a garage freakout complete with animal sound effects and spoken-word lyrics like “Who the hell ordered pizza?!” that recall Frank Zappa, but the chorus is just gratifying blues. It’d be right at home on Dr. Demento’s radio show. The same applies to “Tastebuds,” an absurdly raunchy, mangled up punk-soul joint that invites a mixture of laughter and nausea, though it’s probably too foul for radio.
The guitar tone on “Crystal Ball” is the garage rock fanatic’s Holy Grail, a perfect mixture of vintage effects and overdrive. “Tryin’” is governed by its title lyric: “I’m tryin’ not to use my mind.”
The record’s centerpiece has to be “I’ll Be Loving You,” a track that sums everything up: there’s BBQ’s soul wail, a period-appropriate bassline, simple but effective lyrics. There’s no demented humor, just a song that’d be at home on the radio at a drive-in or in the American Graffiti soundtrack.
There’s always the lingering feeling that this is all a joke, a fact not hindered by “Animal Party” and “Tastebuds,” and it takes away from the sincerity and emotional impact of songs like “I’ll Be Loving You.” However, a record that errs on the side of fun is far preferable to one that takes itself too seriously.
All in all, The King Khan & BBQ Show’s eccentricities might not jibe with your average music fan, but forget ’em. This soul revival is far more entertaining than most of the acts that decided to get in on the vintage music boom.