King Tuff // Black Moon Spell
Sub Pop Records
Recommended Track: Eddie’s Song
I have a confession: I never really followed King Tuff or their (his?) music. Maybe it’s the fact that Marshall full stacks and Gibson guitars scare me with the primal, pelvic-thrusting rock image they portray or maybe it’s because a lot of the silly tongue-in-cheek “retro” rock from many of LA’s independent cassette tape-slinging labels just seemed to me like a big in-joke between friends getting stoned in a garage and not a serious effort to make music that stands the test of time by, paradoxically, looking backwards in order to have the “last word” on a particular period of music.
King Tuff’s latest album is a love letter to the likes of Marc Bolan, Slade, KISS, and Alice Cooper. From the opening seconds of the album’s title track, with it’s unaccompanied square-wave fuzz guitar, it’s immediately clear that Black Moon Spell is yet another guitar album among a growing number of guitar albums flooding forth in a knee-jerk reaction to the “anybody can do it” neo-garage rock movement of the past few years. Black Moon Spell differs, however in that it actually manages to capture some of that high voltage 70s mojo on tape, likely thanks in no small part to the work of Bobby Harlow, the man behind the mixing board and running cables outside the bathroom-sometimes-vocal-booth inside Burger Record’s Studio B in Los Angeles, CA. Honestly, it sounds like every fuzzy cocked-wah guitar riff on this record was painstakingly dialed in to satisfy the pre-teen rock ‘n roller inside the heart of every man and woman.
Black Moon Spell is not without its faults though and where it falls short is in the lyrical content. Here, King Tuff opts to plug into a number of rock & roll cliches (“Headbanger”, “Beautiful Thing”, “Demon From Hell”) as if to reassure the listener that it’s all a big, elaborate hoax and they aren’t honestly finding themselves enjoying a rock album their parents may sneak from their room. If it is all a joke, well then fuck me: The jangly acoustic guitar, nimble drum fills, relaxing vocal melody and explosive baritone guitar solo in “Eyes of a Muse” bring to mind the The Who at their most creative, and easily stands head and shoulders as the most solid songwriting effort on the album, as bombastic in its delivery as it is sentimental.
The 70s bore witness to, arguably, the most formative period in music where the stages grew ever-bigger, the physical and emotional divide between the artist and the audience widened, songwriting become more of a calculated art rather than a happy accident, and the need became more urgent for drugs to be harder in order to accept the fact the 60s had to end. Black Moon Spell offers an enjoyable retrospective of the prevailing rock sounds of the decade, but it doesn’t really hit its stride until later in the album and by then it’s over. It isn’t likely King Tuff will have the last word on music from the 70s, but when he manages to shed some of the bullshit quirkiness or, at the very least, finds a happy medium (“Eddie’s Song”, “Madness”), he shines as a competent songwriter in a sea of pretenders.