Born Arish Ahmad Khan and using a number of different monikers on stage, King Khan has re-emerged after losing friends, temporarily splitting from his long time collaborator Mark Sultan (or BBQ as he is known) and battling his inner demons. Prior to all of this, Khan wore the crown as the emperor of soul. His stage shows were (and continue to be) theatrical events created with the spirit of punk with the display of pageantry. His music was blend of colours from garage rock to psychedelic R&B infusing James Brown, Wilson Picket, the Sun Ra Arkestra and even The Ramones together into impressive, raw, unadulterated soul music. So after a longish hiatus, King Khan and the Shrines return to reclaim their thrown, except the party this time around is more focussed, refined, slightly more introspective – and a tad political. Not to worry, they still rock out with major attitude and swagger.
Titled Idle No More after the aboriginal protest in Canada to reclaim rights and protect the environment, the album is chalk full of deep yet humorous moments about the state of the world and the state of King Khan’s inner strength. Thank goodness for the super seductive horns which are an absolute reciprocal necessity given some of the themes of the lyrics. Lead off track ‘Born to Die’ offers a rather gloomy outlook on the existence of everything while The Shrines, who bear some impressive musicians with equally impressive resumes in the world of Jazz, burst through with rock n’ roll attitude to save the day. For Khan, the track is a personal renewal of sorts, and a reminder that we have but one, short life to fight for our dreams. For the rest of us who might not pay attention to the message, the song delivers ultra catchy soulful hooks. This sentiment is refocussed again in first single ‘Bite My Tongue’, which pays tribute to those who fight against world injustice, despite the video being quite comical, capturing the dual personality of the band and its leader. It’s sort of a dance-while-the-world-burns aesthetic, a theme shared with the allegorical but fun ‘Thorn In Her Pride’ referring to humans and their relationship with mother nature herself. The absolute funkiest track is awarded to ‘The Luckiest Man’, a song delivered with such contagious, manic energy and rare positive prose that it just might contain magical elements to heal the most darkened of souls in under just 4 minutes.
Like the band’s personality, Idle No More is a title which serves a dual purpose. While it is a reflection of the growing change in the world, it also describes King Khan’s awakened spirit. He has comes to terms with death as evident by ‘So Wild’, an tribute and collection of memories to a fallen friend, the passion and pain in Khan’s voice is in direct opposition to those ever present, energetic horns. King Khan than completely switches gears and raises the rock n’ roll banner behind the “I’ll get paid / I’ll get laid” mantra in ‘I Got Made’. As a result, Idle No More is inspiring on many levels, but mostly because it beckons us to dance passionately and live fully in the wake of ever present darkness.