Choose a moniker like that and you better be mind-bogglingly good. Because upon hearing the name ‘KingBathmat‘ you assume the worst. You assume wackiness. It’s fallacious reasoning – post hoc ergo propter hoct in legalese – and Bathmat, you better watch yourself, because the first sign of quirky, the first hint of offbeat, I’m gonna come round your house and flambé your pets. But in the end, Rex is safe; initial assumptions aren’t his Majesty’s main problem.
Nope, the problem is one of scale. This is an attempt at BIG music, but in a really small way. Lord Of The Rings remade on Super-8. The Ride of the Valkyries performed on a swanny whistle and a kazoo. The Charge Of The Light Brigade manned by two guys, an elderly horse and an asthmatic dog.
So when it rains on Fantastic Freak Show Carnival, it absolutely pours. Soul Searching Song is so self-indulgent that you keep half expecting it to pause and give itself a round of applause, something that would at least provide an opportunity to find something blunt to cave your skull in with. Even worse is Illuminous Pups. That. Uses. Pan. Pipes. Fucking panpipes! The inadvertent invention of a Victorian scientist called Dr Bill Geul (he was actually trying to refine the blowpipe) and used in the interrogation of prisoners until outlawed as inhumane in 1965.
Nothing good has ever been made with pan-pipes. The song itself is a horrible cut-and-shut, the front end sophomoric ‘chillout’ music as reinterpreted by the pianist at your local lounge bar, the back a horrible cod-Zeppelin interlude, and is as dreadful as welding those two things together sounds.
But while bad, those are the exceptions rather than the rule. The song Fantastic Freak Show Carnival is really nifty, darting through movements yet sounding so coherently part of something bigger that you begin wondering if you’re listening to some long forgotten rock opera by The Who – Tommy 2: Tommy Reloaded. Equally appealing is Ghost In The Fire which demonstrates a turn of phrase that is massively charming in a bitter, yet strangely polite way, and ends up catching a wave of absurd pop perfection like an English wing of the Super Furry Animals.
When listening to Fantastic Freak…. the idea of a cottage industry concept album becomes increasingly hard to shift. And with all the work behind it being done by one man, John Bassett, it’s an endearing image that is probably quite close to the truth. It is a lot better than any first impressions might give, but comes short of achieving what it aims at. However, if it was aspiring towards more of the prog-rock wallowing that the album occasionally drops into, then that failure could definitely be considered a saving grace.