aKING - Against All Odds

2009-05-20 09:25
 
Against All Odds
 

I wouldn't want to fall into that mean trap, but I have to say: while there's a place for aKing's cleverly contemporary sound, it would be so much more instantly appealing without the pompous pop overlay.

The pompous pop tag might be a little harsh, but come on - can't we have one light moment on an album, just to relieve the terrible seriousness of it all? In the title track, "Against All Odds", aKing sing about being "zealously juvenile", but pledge that "an old-fashioned raucous promise nestles beneath the bravado." And it does, but nestling isn't enough - there comes a time when you have to uithaal and wys. Where's the dangerous edge, the step into the abyss, the call to live fast and die young?

There's a moment when the cleverly titled "Face-Brick Constellations" begins, with its country-like guitar and rollicking beat, when you feel that aKing are going to kick it up a notch, and then some heavy-handed lyrics, with their over-enunciated, spoken word delivery, impose a layer of unnatural seriousness that overrides the song's promise. It's still got enough going on to make a nightclub rock, but it's not going to survive heavy rotation on my iPod playlist.

A lot of the album is like that, and with a band that relies on the power of words, it might not be out of line to suggest the services of an editor (and a copy editor - if you're going to print all your lyrics, it's probably best not to reproduce all your spelling mistakes). In truth, lyricist Hunter Kennedy appears to be entirely aware of these issues, if his words are anything to go by. And really, what else do we have. So on "The Heart of a Fool", Laudo Liebenberg sings that "it's quite hard letting parts of yourself go… /I know my language has always been my limit… /the heart of the fool lives inside of his mouth." It's a good line, and it'll make you listen to aKing with a more sympathetic ear.

I do love words, but there's a fine line, a hairline crack almost, between beautiful lyrics and actual poetry. When Alice says to Humpty Dumpty, "The question is, whether you CAN make words mean so many different things," he answers: "The question is, which is to be master - that's all." And once they've broken it, all aKing's men can't put Humpty's dictum back together again.

The music doesn't seem to be the master of the words, on some of these songs. It's a question of coherence, and of wanting songs that have simple messages. "Anything too dumb to be spoken should be sung", sings Laudo on "Know Your Bones", the last track, and one that goes a long way towards rescuing the album. "A song is never finished, only abandoned / sing if you've got nothing to say."

It's a fantastically clever song, a danceable, confident meditation on the creative process, on the courage it takes to put out a creative product, and on the relationship between work in progress and its reluctant endpoint. Or it could be about love, I guess. And that's what makes it a good song, that uncertainty. It's not about being obscure, it's about giving your listeners a range of meanings with which to work.

It's hard to draw a line under a review like this. I'm listening to "The Heart of a Fool" again, and it's a song that moves me, in the same way that "I Believe" from Dutch Courage moves me. As with their first album, this one is what the Channel24 music editor refers to as 'a grower.' The more I listen to it, the more I like it, but that affection isn't enough to turn Against All Odds from average into essential.

It's difficult to figure this band out. They have a loyal, sometimes rabid fan base, who were pretty vocal about their debut album Dutch Courage not getting a SAMA nomination this year. But they also have their detractors, who consider them a play-by-numbers kind of band. The detractors might have a point, but it's more likely that, in true South African fashion, they're more interested in punishing industry, prolific output and creative courage, than criticising aKing's art.
Read more on:    south africa  |  aking

Fan 2009/05/20 11:52 AM
Interesting review. Very honest. I'm the type of person that loves a song once I've seen its music video. Let's hope aKing produce strong videos like Safe as Houses & The Dance. If the music isn't catchy enough, the video needs to act as a bit of support. Looking forward to seeing how Against All Odds grows.
12th knight jester 2009/05/20 1:15 PM
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Chris roper is KING
B 2009/05/21 3:50 PM
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A definate work of art... complete package! Love the Voltaire quote on "Know your Bones"....... "Anything too dumb to be spoken should be sung" Listen to it loudly..aKING knows when to listen!
Jan 2009/05/23 11:58 AM
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I used to love aKing. So when the new album 'Against All Odds' was released I immediately went out and bought it, without even bothered to listen to it first. My mind was already made up. If this new album was half as good as Dutch Courage, it will still be great. I can't remember when last I was this disappointed. With a heavy country undertone the cd is as pap as lapkak. Not one track stands out and I'm sure the title track was randomly pick out of the puke bucket of lifeless tracks. I even checked the cd cover to see if some of the band members decided to split since the previous album. Nope, all the guys were still on there but they sure as hell did not pitched for the recording session! This all made me feel like I was royally shafted. I was left with a painful and embarrassing feeling not only in my stomach. Lesson learned: I should have listen to the album first. There is still a strong feeling of hope inside me (even after being so violated) that this album might be a grower. I've put the cd on repeat with a grim hope that some of these uninspiring tracks will eventually mature in something with a bit more substance. To be honest, I've probably sponsored the band's last gram when I bought this cd, but the next one they will have to work for. Until then, I'm just a Dutch Courage fan.
Andy 2009/05/25 2:21 PM
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Good review... I totally agree with your assessment of the lyrics - some of aKing's lyrics are so pretentious they make me sick - they need to realise that raiding a thesaurus does not good poetry make. Less is more! ps. Saw aKing live recently, and was very disappointed - rock star attitude and an untight performance does not impress me and is not going to help them get far!
Andy 2009/05/26 11:05 PM
click here for a counterpoint http://www.mahala.co.za/music/anthem-waiting-for-an-audience/
Ignus 2009/05/27 7:23 PM
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I would say you need listen to album a few times before really shooting it down. You should not be trying to find Dutch Courage here, without Johnny in the line-up, it was never going to be like that. But shooting down hunter's words is quite a silly assesment to make, there is not a single song-writer in South Africa that can quite bring across a white south african perspective like he does, whether that be in Fokof, aKing, or Heuwels... listen to the 1st Van Coke album, and just guess the song he wrote if that brings my point over. My 1st impression was it is average, but like the author says, it gets better at each listen. Not dissapointed at all.
Luca 2009/05/28 10:41 AM
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Copy this link for yet another take on the album... http://lucavincenzo.blogspot.com/2009/05/album-review-aking-against-all-odds.html
Tecla 2009/06/01 4:14 PM
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I cottoned onto the sheer brilliance of this album a few weeks after it came out, and I believe very strongly that there will be many more people like me who will do the same over the next couple of months, while aKING ride the wave of what will be another successful album. My only crit on this album, would be that way too much weight has been placed onto the introspection of these new lyrics. So much so that there are lines like “our pageantry is diluted by the forces that be/ our god-like shortcomings nurtured with grandeur” which makes me go, huh?? Don’t get me wrong, I think this album is a knockout and there are a few standout tracks, like “You and I”, “Face-brick Constellations” and “Heart of a Fool” that have star single quality stamped all over them. But I guess we’ll have to wait and see. Props for the review. http://teclaciolfi.blogspot.com/
Yusuf 2012/06/23 7:10 PM
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I thought the same thing but it's survived longer than expected.
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