The band takes its name from the hand signal ancient messengers are said to have used to spare themselves certain death when delivering unpleasant messages from one king to another--the forefingers crossed. King's X sang about things that were unpleasant to a generation of music fans, for whom serious Christianity was something of a cultural nuisance. Still, their fans, mostly non-believers, seemed willing to tolerate the messages so long as the band kept delivering strong music. Mercifully spared exile in the Christian music world, the three Texas transplants, Ty Tabor, Doug Pinnick, and Jerry Gaskill, landed at Megaforce/Atlantic and recorded several albums to high critical acclaim and the praise of fellow artists.
Lead singer Pinnick's throaty vocals and pounding bass lines, combined with guitarist and vocalist Ty Tabor's obvious reverence for John and Paul, let us imagine what The Beatles might have sounded like had Hendrix been on board.
Still, widespread appeal was slow in coming, and some suspected the reason was the band's faith. Other bands had been in a similar place. U2, for example, knowing their next album would be critical in determining their status in rock culture, dutifully responded with "The Joshua Tree." That album brimmed with support for establishment-approved causes, but was decidedly vague on the spiritual pronouncements the band had once made much clearer in songs like "40."
When King's X faced their moment in 1990, they failed the test. In the song "Legal Kill," they embraced, of all things, the anti-abortion movement, and made unmistakable references to salvation through Christ on "Everywhere I Go." Predictably, the record "Faith, Hope & Love" stalled at around 300,000 units. By sticking to their beliefs, the band settled for selling just enough records to avoid day jobs and opening on the road for bands like The Scorpions and Pearl Jam.
By 1998, they had regrouped, releasing "Tapehead" on the indie label Metal Blade. But just as it was being picked up for distribution in Christian bookstores, Pinnick admitted that he had struggled for years with homosexual feelings and announced that he no longer planned to fight them. Their distributor, Diamante, called off the deal.
King's X fans wondered what would happen next. While Tabor released a solo album reaffirming his strong faith, Pinnick and Gaskill seemed less ardent. Would the biblical admonition about a house divided against itself prove true for the band, or would King's X find a way to work together and thrive?
The answer seems to be a cautious "yes," if the group's new "Please Come Home Mr Bulbous" is any indication.
The album finds Tabor in the driver's seat, co-producing, recording, mixing, and stepping up to the microphone more and generally reasserting himself. As for Pinnick, save for a few curious references to "red fish" in the opening track "Fishbowl" which may or may not have anything to do with his revelation, he seems unwilling to turn his personal story into a crusade.
But then King's X's lyrics have always been obscure, and they have never been more oblique than on "Mr. Bulbous." A song called "Charlie Sheen" offers no references to the actor other than occasional mentions of his name. Another goes, "At the bottom of a box of five black markers is a buried Swedish pen."
Still, the band that once flew its flag of faith high has its moments of clarity, and beauty, as on the final song "Move Me": "Wish I could whisper how much I need you, after tomorrow I might forget to ... God can you hear me cry, God can you see me die, God can you move me, move me and move me again."