- Original publication date: 4 April 2011
Three albums in, and aKING have steadily risen to the status of princes of South Africa's rock royalty. Balancing critical and commercial success, the boys from Bellville have toured relentlessly since their 2008 debut Dutch Courage, crafted their sound carefully from album-to-album, and now The Red-Blooded Years is a confident claim to the throne.
Uniting crowd-pleasing southern rock anthems with some sonic experimentations with keyboards and synthesizers, the new album feels like a natural progression for the Fokofpolisiekar off-shoot - with the association now one less FPK member. Rhythm guitarist Hunter Kennedy has departed the line-up (and on good terms) due to his increasing workload as a member of Die Heuwels Fantasties, another FPK sibling (a rare situation that has emerged as the FPK lads spread their creativity beyond their generation-defining group). His replacement is Andrew Davenport, whose arrival must've prompted the band to reassess their sound, as well as the 3-month rush it took to record 2009's Against All Odds.
Pardon This Polished Approach
The cross-pollination of ideas between this family of bands is interesting to consider in the South African music industry. If Fokofpolisiekar represents the adrenaline-charged, Afrikaans rock fury, and Die Heuwels Fantasties the unashamed electropop veering ever-so close to sokkie treffer territory (commercialised Afrikaans dance hits) , then aKING sits somewhere in the middle of the spectrum, drawing from both houses and presenting heirs in English.
This bilingual billing is something I was reminded of when I saw the band live at Kirstenbosch Gardens Summer Sunset Concerts this past Sunday (3 April 2011). Gravel-mouthed lead singer Laudo Liebenberg's between-song banter occasionally switched languages, which makes the verbosity of his (English) lyrics all the more impressive. But what is more fascinating is his brooding, baritoned voice, which once again infuses each new track with rousing bravado, passion, sincerity and even tenderness.
New sounds are immediately evident on the lengthy synth-heavy intro of album opener 'Catch Alight', where bassist Hennie Van Halen also contributes keyboards, and on first single 'The Runaround', power ballad 'Holding On', and soothing charmer 'All In The Wind'. Liebenberg gets ample backing vocals from Van Halen and Davenport, providing salt-and-sugar studio harmonies and an added boost in the crowd-pleasing stakes when playing live. Drummer Jaco 'Snakehead' Venter, now the lone FPK link, is also most exciting to witness live, and could make a funeral dirge look like a Broadway musical the way he smashes away at the kit.
Despite the mostly upbeat demeanour in their music, aKING has always had an intriguingly dark, sexual side to their lyrics. 'Cut-Throat Tongue' is this album's most obvious example ("Lift that cursed skirt, vicious young jackal/My confidence is coming"), but everywhere else there's smatterings of songwriter Laudo's angst-filled, ambiguous confessions and musings. They're the kind of lyrics that might pass over you first time round, but soon start to resonate within you after a couple of listens. My personal favourite? From 'All In The Wind': "I don't drink too much, just enough/To sink my teeth into the evening/And grind through the days".
The Red-Blooded Years flows with vigour from start to finish (even instrumental 'The Sleeping Sound' uses its peerage as album closer to give one last hoorah) and is the sound of a band acknowledging their prime. This is their coming of age. Long live aKING.
- Catch Alight
- The Runaround
- Cut-Throat Tongue And Razor
- Kick Me
- So Close
- Holding On
- All In The Wind
- Weak Man's World
- Any Other Way
- First Brush
- Red Blooded Years
- The Sleeping Sound
Release date: 1 March 2011