The King Khan & BBQ Show

“Invisible Girl” (In the Red) -- 4 STARS

Arish “King” Khan and Mark “BBQ” Sultan know how to have fun. They know so well, in fact, that the Canadian duo often tends towards unabashed—and some may argue, sinful—hedonism, as is the case with their third, full-length collaborative effort, “Invisible Girl.”

King Khan enjoys being practically naked on stage, save boxers and tribal necklaces, and Sultan often sports a turban. In the ’90s, they wreaked havoc as members of The Spaceshits, until the band was blacklisted by most venues in Montreal. They aren’t exactly upright people. So “Invisible Girl” isn’t the kind of album that is going to make you a better person through its “art.” However, by combining the simple rock ’n’ roll sounds from by-gone days when it was still cool to be happy, and the shit-all attitude of punk, with lyrics often explicit enough to make a college frat-boy cringe, King Khan and BBQ deliver an album that will make you dance and forget all shame.

The album begins with “Anala,” an old-school pop song, whose percussion section is comprised of muted clapping, snare rolls, and a bassy vocal line (“um bau bau, um bau”) provided by Khan. Floating above is Sultan’s voice, empathetically harmonizing with “ooh-aah” and very simple lyrics about girl troubles. The lighthearted pop sound continues through to the second and title track. It ups the fun notch by incorporating tambourines, seagulls, a distorted, power-chord based guitar backbone behind a melodic, single-line riff, and lyrics addressed to, one can only assume, the mermaid on the album cover.

The third track, “I’ll Be Loving You,” is once again a ’50s pop-inspired love song. By this point listeners may assume that the whole album is going to be as innocent as their guitars and tambourines suggest. However, tracks like “Animal Party” and especially “Tastebuds” betray this expectation. “Animal Party” is perhaps too literal: the singer receives an invitation to a great party by “Mr. Pig” who articulates himself with pig honks. “Tastebuds” is a very forthright expression of a male’s sexual desires. (Though even among the immature references to oral sex, most of the songs feature a clichéd variation on “I love you.”) Indeed, much of the lyrics on “Invisible Girl” are best described as rather juvenile.

The track “Spin the Bottle” is an instance of this indulgence. The chorus goes “I’m in love with you, you’re in love with me.” This track in many ways exemplifies the album: while the lyrics are fairly mindless, the music is redeemed through its copious hooks and infectious dancability. The simplicity of the lyrics encourages singing along even at first listen and the rhythmic guitars inspire instant foot tapping.

The song that contrasts most with the upbeat tone of the rest of the album is “Third Avenue.” The fast-paced rhythm that pervades the album is replaced by a slow Motown groove. Appearing right in the middle of the album, it gives the listeners some space to relax. It also allows Sultan’s voice to shine through, his high notes lightening the track’s soulful edge. The fact that this track appears right before “Tastebuds” is perhaps intentional, and makes the latter more surprising than it would have been were it standing alone.

The easy complaint to make about “Invisible Girl” is that it is too fun. The thorough indulgence in pleasure often leads to a lack of rigor. The songs are not technically complex. All the songs except “Third Avenue” are in simple 4/4 time and most of the songs are based on a three-chord progression. King Khan and BBQ are by no means exploring new grounds in music through the album. But this, of course, was never their intent. They want to make music that’s as fun to play as it is to listen to, and absolutely nothing more.

Because what’s rock and roll without a little hedonism? “Who knows how to rock?” asks Sultan in “Third Avenue” Answering his own question: “We do.”

—Staff writer Susie Y. Kim can be reached at yedenkim@fas.harvard.edu.

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