King Tuff (or Kyle Thomas to his mum) is something of a nomadic good time rocker. He’s the front man of the stoner band Witch (that happens to feature Dinosaur Jr guitar god J Mascis on drums), plays in the folk band Feathers and finds time to play in the quaintly titled, pop-tinged Happy Birthday. As King Tuff things are a lot more straightforward, and there’s little else going on than good old fashioned rock ‘n’ roll.
Anthem gets things moving right from the off with its good time southern fried rock ‘n’ roll riff, and it’s sung with an almost childish glee. There’s a kind of stoned celebratory tone going on, and when the low slung guitar lick hooks up with a footstamping handclapping mid-section, it’s clear that King Tuff is just after a party.
So it’s perhaps no coincidence that the next song is entitled Alone & Stoned. Again, there’s another quirky vocal, which just manages to skirt along the border between “odd” and “annoying”. This time around King Tuff take the ’70s Glam Rock of the UK as their inspiration and specifically, T-Rex.
In fact Bolan’s influence can be found countless times on King Tuff. Keep On Movin’ is steeped in it and plasters on a massive summertime grin. There’s time for a cartoon call and response while the jangling guitars steady lope instigate a woozy dance. Unusual World heads away from the rockier influences, adopting a rolling space-pop ambience. Yet there’s still an element of Bolan’s clumsy mysticism hanging over everything, which rather makes for a slightly irritating experience. It just about works though. There’s no weird mystical undertones on Stranger, just an up front raucous boogie-woogie rocker. It’s when they’re hitting the rock ‘n’ roll hard and not worrying about anything other than having a good time that King Tuff are at their best.
Elsewhere, Bad Thing kicks out the jams in pulverising style. An explosive guitar driven garage band tune, Kyle Thomas’ vocals drift from soft and vulnerable to raw and dangerous. Loser’s Wall stays in the garage as Thomas morphs his voice convincingly into a drawl that is pure Mark Arm (Mudhoney), and raids the Rolling Stones songbook for inspiration. Judging by the riffs, he got a bit tired after checking out Jumping Jack Flash, Brown Sugar and Gimme Shelter.
There are some softer moments too. Baby Just Break’s acoustic folk skip for example is irresistible and recalls a time when Bob Dylan used to know how to have fun. It’s just that stuck in the middle of these full on rock tunes, it feels a bit like a weird diversion. And the simpering ballad Evergreen just doesn’t fit in among these big party tunes. It’s all pleasant enough with its tinkling piano and breathy vocals, but it brings the buzz down.
In fact, the latter half of the album really takes the foot off the pedal. Swamp Of Love finds the Dylan inspiration of Baby Just Break and fast-forwards a few years to when old Bob had gone sour-faced and miserable. Still, there’s a quite brilliant chord progression on show and another break for one of those inclusive, heartwarming handclap moments. Perhaps it’s a little unfair to judge Swamp Of Love on account of harshing the party vibe; after all, every party has its lulls and its moments of introspection. Had King Tuff been commissioned to write the soundtrack for Richard Linklater’s Dazed And Confused, then this would fit the Lynyrd Skynyrd Tuesday’s Gone moment perfectly.
Calling on a series of well worn rock staples, King Tuff is a fine album that pushes no boundaries, but is quite content to get the party started. Sometimes, all you need is some good old worthwhile visceral experiences.