If you’ve been reading this column since its inception, you’ve probably noticed that it’s been evolving a little bit. Originally, it started out as just an excuse for me to chat up my favorite unheralded and underappreciated pop albums, but in recent weeks, I’ve been trying to hunt up the artists responsible for these albums and do a bit of a Q&A with them. Now, I don’t know how y’all have been digging it, but, personally, I’ve been having a blast chatting with these people who have been responsible for providing me with such great music; even better, the people in question seem to have been enjoying the chance to revisit their albums and, certainly, it’s nice for them to be reminded that their records still keep making people happy long after their initial release. In fact, I’ve actually got three columns currently in the pipeline where the artists have agreed to offer up their reminiscences about the albums I’ve selected.
Unfortunately, none of those columns are ready for this week, so I thought I’d tackle an album by a band who seems to have completely disappeared off the map and, as such, isn’t readily available to contact about doing a Q&A. (That way, I don’t feel like I’m slacking off.)
Kingmaker, a British trio consisting of Loz Hardy (vocals, guitar), Myles Howell (bass), and John Andrew (drums), took Kingston upon Hull — and, to a lesser extent, the whole of Great Britain — by storm in the early 1990s. Their first album, 1991’s Eat Yourself Whole, was a substantial hit in the UK, thanks to songs like “Two Headed, Yellow Bellied Hole Digger,” “Really Scrape the Sky,” and the title track. The second album, Sleepwalking, was decidedly less successful, and the third, In the Best Possible Taste, made barely a blip on the charts, but such is life when you’re trumpeted as the Next Big Thing by the NME: the odds are stacked against you from the start. And speaking of being barely a blip, that’s actually an understatement when describing Kingmaker’s American profile. Eat Yourself Whole did less than nothing here, and, frankly, I question if even Chrysalis Records knew that Sleepwalking came out in the States … and they released it!
I was a dedicated reader of New Musical Express in the late ’80s and early ’90s, though, so I’d read Loz Hardy go on about this and that, and as a Smiths fan, when I finally heard the music of Kingmaker, I was thoroughly entertained by the fact that Hardy was unabashedly playing the part of both Morrissey and Marr, singing his heart out while offering up jangly but melancholy guitar riffs to power his band’s pop songs. Despite the fact that their debut was their most successful album, I find it’s Sleepwalking that I refer back to the most, possibly because it is so Smiths-like. Marr’s influence is probably most evident on its opening track, “Playground Brutality,” but given Morrissey’s tendency to mouth off about his political beliefs, you can certainly sense his influence when Loz sings, “Bomb all the idiots now,” on “Armchair Anarchist.” Plus, how great is that pop hook? Similarly, while singles like “Queen Jane” and “Ten Years Asleep” may not have set the charts alight, they’re sure as hell catchy. These are all three-minute pop songs, of course, which gives them the advantage, but even the album’s six-minute epic, “Tomorrow’s World,” flows along memorably, thanks to a string arrangement from Anne Dudley. Basically, if you’re looking for the missing link between the Smiths and Suede, it’s Kingmaker, and Sleepwalking is the best spotlight of their talents.
As noted, the band has virtually no online presence these days, which is really weird, what with all of the various MySpace pages out there, but no one’s even bothered to create an unofficial profile for Kingmaker … and maybe it’s just me, but that strikes me as a little sad. Still, at least there’s an extremely informative unofficial Kingmaker site, though, called Where You Stand, which features a discography, lyrics, and an interview with Loz that was done in 2000. Since that was eight years ago, though, I have to wonder what he’s up to these days; if anyone has any idea, don’t be afraid to leave a comment with any info.