No More Kings

No More Kings No More Kings
2 stars out of 5
Reviewed for Coffeerooms by Mike Jefferson

“No More Kings” singer/songwriter/puppeteer Pete Mitchell has described his band’s self-titled CD as “a tribute to the 80s.” It’s a garage band’s look at zombies, Smurfs, the Karate Kid and Charlie Brown’s piano playing friend Schroeder. The character driven storylines in “No More Kings” were hatched Mitchell’s witty and creative imagination. Mitchell takes the song as parody one step further. Instead of lampooning popular tunes like Weird Al Yankovic or going over the snarky, psychotic deep end like Frank Zappa, Mitchell has written songs that sound familiar yet come from his point of view. His writing style is somewhat like the solo albums Neil Innes released after his escape from the Bonzo Dog Band. The material is boyishly cute and fun without being an insult to the intelligence.

No More King’s video “Sweep the Leg” has already high-stepped its way to a popular position on YouTube and on cable music programs where they actually play music. The video is an ode to “The Karate Kid” and features the still cuddly Ralph Macchio and still badass Martin Kove, who were in the original hokum, and probably have been looking for acting jobs ever since. (Pat Morita, a/k/a Mr. Miyagi, has donned his headband and gone to that great Samurai sword supplier in the sky.) The rest of the music on “No More Kings” pays homage to television programs like “The Muppet Show” and “Knight Rider.” The fact that “Knight Rider” was an updated version of 60s bomb “My Mother the Car” (called one of the worst sitcoms of all time) says a lot about the occasionally clueless subculture of the 80s, and since “No More Kings” is a reflection of the years when Ronald Reagan, MTV, Cabbage Patch dolls, AIDS, “Flashdance” and the “Me First!” generation ruled the media, it’s a minor accomplishment that Mitchell’s music is so upbeat. The question is… Does it work? As with all musical comedy, it’s a matter of taste, and if you have any, then the answer is no.

Mitchell’s influences are entrenched in the 80s, but there are hints of influences from artists who recorded years before he was born (perhaps he heard them in the womb). His jerky vocal delivery reflects today’s slacker boy band style. At times Mitchell tries to so hard to sound cool that some of his amusing lines are compromised by his dead pan delivery or end up buried in the mix. The Kings play with the aplomb, but the songs are marred by a dense clutter of effects and Mitchell’s rote singing.

The jungle beat and snappy lyrics make the opener “Zombie Me” the most creative and amusing cut on the CD. “Now I slide down the street with my shoes on my feet, looking for brains to eat. I’m a zombie me!” It also contains the single best line on the album:
“Now I speak with all the eloquence of livestock.” It’s a great start and nothing comes close to matching it. “Girl in the White Sea” starts of like a sea chantey with a touch of accordion mixed with some likable tuba backing, nifty fiddle and percussion that sounds as if some old salt is tapping out a beat on the wooden deck of a whaler. This one has promise, even though it sounds more like the theme song from a Greek restaurant than a song about the sea. “Old Man Walking” is acoustic delta blues with a tasty, educated solo. The vocals, however, are boy band slick. It would have been great to listen to this without the forced trying-to-sound-hip narrative. The final cut, “This,” is a mirror of Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon.” Rip off or not, it’s sensitive and pleasant, with sweeping reflective piano, gentle guitar, and a dignified horn section that swells with each stanza.

The aforementioned performances notwithstanding, the rest of the material on “No More Kings” will indeed leave pleading “no mas,” including the signature piece, “Sweep the Leg.” Without the visuals, the song is just a fast-paced kick to the groin with an ants on speed beat and a synthesizer solo that sounds like the keyboard is shorting out. “Sweep the leg, Johnny. Good god, now ya gotta believe me.” No, I don’t, Pete. “Sweep the Leg” is simply too fast for its own good, but its one amusing video. “Michael (jumpin)” has a celebratory feel, but it’s done in by Mitchell’s desensitized got-no-business-trying-to-rap facade. “Grand Experiment” isn’t exactly grand and it’s not very experimental. It’s a case of Dr. Frankenstein being eaten by his own creation. “Grand Experiment” is paralyzed by hollow vocals, ditzy guitars and runaway drums that are at least muffled enough not to cause permanent hearing loss. Now I know why Mitchell claimed a Muppets influence -- the drums sound as if they’re being played by “Animal” that out of control Muppet who seemed to be a direct descendant of Keith Moon.

“About Schroeder” is a solo piano performance that overpowers the vocals, and that ain’t easy. It has the feel of a stream of consciousness knock off. There are a lot of keys tinkled, but the song never goes anywhere. It’s also “factually” inaccurate, something about Sally Brown sitting down at his piano. Hey! Everybody knows Lucy loved Schroeder, not Sally. Lucky Charles Schultz is dead Pete, or he’d sick Lucy after you. “Leaving Lilliput” begins with a mock radio broadcast. The rapper/poser narrator -- think Vanilla Ice on the hardened streets of Rodeo Drive -- is about as tough as Wham. I get it, he’s supposed to be as white bread as Mr. Rogers, but didn’t Weird Al already do this with “Straight Outta Lynwood?” “I don’t mean to preach, but there’s trouble at the beach.” Sure is. Please go buy your head in the sand, Pete. “Mr. B” is another song with a pace as fast Carl Lewis being chased by a swarm of angry bees. Throw in the same headache-inducing drum beat that permeates the record, some wocka wocka guitar riffs, a Broadway musical middle eight, and you’ve got a hypersonic mess.

“Someday” at least contains some amusing lines: “Tucked in my corduroys, I’ve got my Beasty Boys tape. Fight for my right to party though I’m not invited… I got my talking sock behind that cardboard box; I’m putting on a show.” There’s a lot going on in the disjointed storybook arrangement, maybe too much. There’s an all to brief burst of Beatle-esque “Penny Lane” horns and strings backed by that bloody headache-inducing beaver tail beat. Thud. Thud. Thwack. “Someday” has its moments, but so does delirium. “Umbrella” nick’s U2s spacey guitar sound. It has an effective rolling bass, but the drums are all over the place with too much preoccupation with the cymbals at the wrong time.

“No More Kings” is well played and polished, and it’s a good thing that the lyrics are splayed all over the inside cover because Mitchell sometimes gets lost in a production that’s got more levels than a survivalist’s bunker. Although there are some amusing lines, “No More Kings” is no knee slapper. The Kings have to decide whether they want to be entertaining or funny. Right now they’re neither.



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