Every week in the lead-up to Splendour, we’re looking at a brilliant album by one of the artists on the bill. This week, Dan Condon looks at King Khan & BBQ Show's Invisible Girl.
No one foresaw garage rock becoming hip. For years, it had a small audience of drunken outcasts, before the mainstream embraced it towards the end of last decade.
It's the commitment to their bizarre vision that makes them so exciting.
Jay Reatard became a hero to the kinds of people who would have terrorised him at school. Atlanta's Black Lips were getting played on commercial television shows. Eddy Current Suppression Ring became one of Australia's biggest bands and Canadian soul dynamo King Khan even appeared on gossip bible TMZ after a night out with Lindsay Lohan.
More importantly, people were showing up to garage shows in droves, buying records from labels like Goner and In The Red. Trashy, budget recordings became the musical aesthetic du jour for cool kids around the globe.
Arish "King" Khan and Mark Sultan (aka BBQ) were knee deep in garage rock since the mid '90s. Together they terrorised audiences in The Spaceshits.
Sultan then formed Les Sexareenos (their 2001 album 14 Frenzied Shakers is one of the best and most underrated garage records of all time) and later he performed as a one man band, under the name BBQ.
Khan stepped out in front of King Khan & His Shrines, winning huge acclaim for their brilliant messy soul rock'n'roll and incendiary live shows. In 2002 both men reconnected and formed The King Khan & BBQ Show.
Invisible Girl is the band's third and best album. Released at the perfect time where garage rock was unknown and exciting for the well-dressed college kids, it was the perfect mix of infectious pop, degenerate humour and trashy, lo-fi aesthetic.
It's part punk rock, part doo-wop. It's music your grandparents would probably relate to more so than your parents. It is music made out of love and passion for great early rock'n'roll.
They sing stupid songs about animals, depict deviant sexual activity in a manner befitting a junior school locker room, bash out simple rhythms and play basic guitar progressions through rudimentary gear. What they lack in good taste or high production values, they make up for with passion.
Opening track 'Anala' sets the tone both musically and lyrically with its jangly guitar, bassy doo wop vocals and amorous lyrics. The chorus of 'Invisible Girl' is a sunny pop refrain that pledges an equal love for pills as it does a lover. 'Spin The Bottle' is a cute, Buddy Holly-esque shuffle that suggests Khan and Sultan were teens in the wrong era.
While they share lead vocal duties, the album's best performances come when Sultan croons like Dion out the front of The Belmonts, and when Khan channels The Marcels’ Richard F. Knauss.
Sultan's singing on 'I'll Be Loving You' and 'Third Ave' are as good as any rock'n'roll vocal performances you'll hear anywhere – deeply soulful but also brilliantly fractured. They're the two best songs on the album and both should be classics.
But the most talked-about song on Invisible Girl is 'Tastebuds'. It's crass and catchy. It's foul and brattish. It's unashamedly immature. It's a song you need to be wary of. If it gets stuck in your head – and it will – you'd best not sing it in polite company. But it's delivered with such tongue-in-cheek vigour that you can forgive the foul language and concepts within.
'Animal Party' is equally immature, but this one you could actually play to your kids. When Khan oinks like a pig over an unending two-chord pattern, you might wonder what you're doing listening to this. But then Sultan's gravelly chorus brings it all back.
In the eyes of the traditional music industry, it might look like The King Khan & BBQ Show were determined to sabotage their chance of immense crossover success in the golden era of garage. Invisible Girl could have been the perfect record released at the perfect time. When it was released, the band commanded large and lively crowds. More time may have allowed these songs to connect with more people.
But Khan and Sultan parted ways in acrimonious circumstances not long after its release. Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson invited the band to Australia to perform at the Vivid LIVE festival they had curated. It ended badly, with Khan banned from the Sydney Opera House and the band splitting up very soon after.
But the King Khan & BBQ Show are not self-saboteurs. They are passionate and they do what they want. It's the commitment to their bizarre vision that makes them so exciting.
Invisible Girl is trashy and loud, but also strangely beautiful. It might be a weird album, but it's also a hell of a lot of fun. The best news for Splendour audiences is that the band is arguably even better live than they are on record. Make sure you're ready for some ludicrous fun if you're lucky enough to catch them.
The King Khan & BBQ Show play Splendour in the Grass on Saturday 25 July. They also play Sydney (July 22) and Melbourne (July 24).
Hear Invisible Girl in full from 9am Sunday.