I imagine that an artist is under a lot of pressure when making a follow up to a successful, well loved album. The fans want something that sounds similar to what they’ve heard, but if you make it too similar, you risk being labeled a one-trick pony and you lose a lot of the novelty, good will, and momentum you accrued with that previous album. King Tuff is by no means a household name, and his last album, 2012’s King Tuff, didn’t come anywhere close to reaching the top of the Billboard 200, but it was a critical success that won him some new fans, so I’m sure he felt some of that pressure when preparing to make his new album, Black Moon Spell. Fortunately, the album ends up perfectly in the sweet spot between familiar and new.
King Tuff is my name
I’ve got madness in my brain,
Pleased to meet’cha, I’m gonna eat’cha
Cuz I’m batshit insane
King Tuff sings this on the song “Madness,” showing that he’s still the same garage rock weirdo with a hard-on for 70s power pop and T. Rex-style glam who knows how to work a hook. Now, however, he can add the title “good-ass guitarist” to that list. His guitar playing has been fine on his last two albums, but on Black Moon Spell he’s allowed himself to really show off his chops, firing off powerful riffs and solos left and right. The saying goes that “good artists borrow, great artists steal,” and King Tuff apes riffs and sounds from all over rock history, from T. Rex to Queen, The Who, The Only Ones, and everything in between.
Right off the bat, the title track “Black Moon Spell” sets the stage for King Tuff’s newly manifested love of licks with an infectious and heavy riff. The song is sort of a garage glam update of Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ “I Put a Spell on You.” It’s got real rock and roll swagger, both musically and lyrically. It’s the opening fanfare, the incantation and fancy sparkles of the fourteen-track, forty-plus-minute-long spell that King Tuff is casting on you.
For as much garage rock immediacy as there is on Black Moon Spell, there is also a surprising amount of psych rock mixed in as well. Tracks like “Rainbow’s Run” (no, not a Mario Kart stage) and “Magic Mirror” are full-on psych tracks, while even some of the poppier tunes like “Eyes Of The Muse” have psychedelic portions. None of the songs are over five minutes long, so you won’t get lost in the haze for too long before King Tuff snaps you out of it with a cool solo or something.
King Tuff’s persona, both in his songs and in real life (as far as we can tell from social media), is that of the rock and roll misfit, the garage rock weirdo. “Black Holes in Stereo” is King Tuff’s love letter to music, and coincidentally has an anecdote regarding his persona.
I learned more working at the record store than I ever did in high school
He later goes on to sing:
Baseball, football, too many rules
and math was a crying shame
I woke up in a pool of drool
with ‘FREAK’ written on my brain
It’s King Tuff though, so there will always be some humor attached to it.
In the “We Will Rock You”-style stomper “Madness,” besides introducing himself in my favorite lyric of the whole album, King Tuff also proclaims his love for all the similarly weirdo women.
I always fall for the wild girls,
The rock-and-rolla, Coca-Cola,
Make me wanna lose control-a girls
He doesn’t need to state this however, since it’s everywhere on his album. At least half of the songs on Black Moon Spell are, in some way or another, odes to weird, crazy, freaky girls. “Headbanger” is a hyper-catchy song about a metalhead with a record collection containing “Sabbath and Priest and Number of the Beast.” “Beautiful Thing,” a song with serious T. Rex-inspired falsetto background vocals, is about a girl “breaking cars with a baseball bat, turning all the good boys bad.” There’s even the short, silly “I Love You Ugly,” that is the musical equivalent of the saying “I love you, warts and all,” which features instrumentation as interesting as the woman he describes in the song.
All of the songs on Black Moon Spell fit very well together, and it feels like a fun garage rock/power pop album. But there is one oddity, the synth-heavy “Radiation.” It’s not the synths you might think of in a classic 80s sense, these synths are dark, staccato hits that, combined with the abrasive guitar and psychedelic vocals, throw the listener for a loop. It almost feels like a small cloud passing in front of the sun on an otherwise clear summer day. Luckily, the song is short and the darkness is wiped away by the cheery opening riff of “Eyes of the Muse,” also signaling the beginning of the end of the album.
Over his last two albums, King Tuff has developed a formula for closing out an album. The pattern goes sweet glam ballad, followed by a rollicking song with a hook that sticks with you long after the needle has lifted. In his last album, King Tuff, that one-two punch was “Swamp of Love” and “Hit and Run.” This time, the penultimate song is “Staircase of Diamonds,” a sweet ballad, again about a weirdo woman, with cool vibrato-affected guitars and a psychedelic chorus. Then he brings it home with the power pop shuffle of “Eddie’s Song.” It’s impossible not to sing along to the woo-oohs even after the song is finished.
Black Moon Spell accomplishes exactly what it sets out to do, casting a hex on its listeners using a bit of the old mixed with a bit of the new. The mad musical witch doctor, King Tuff once again uses his great songwriting prowess and musical talent to get every person, demon, spirit and witch within earshot to want to dance, sing and shout along to his music.
Black Moon Spell is available now online or at your local record store.