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John S. Hall started off as a writer and poet during the 1980s in Manhattan's East Village. When his performances were later enhanced by a number of his musician friends, the foundation for his band King Missile were laid. King Missile performed in a range of distinct musical styles; from an acoustic guitar and harmonica based sound that was at one time referred to as "anti-folk" to a more psychedelic rock sound dominated by electric guitars and keyboards and which is the prevalent sound on this CD. But the overriding factor always underpinning their music was undoubtedly the eccentric vocals and lyrics of Hall.
The Way to Salvation was the band's major label debut produced on Atlantic Records. It was a follow up to the modestly successful 'Mystical Shit' which was released on a minor New York record label called Shimmy Disc and gained notoriety with the single released called "Jesus Was Way Cool". Following numerous subsequent changes to the band's line up, 'The Way to Salvation', was released in 1991.
The tracks on this CD at times come across as little raw with lyrics that may sometimes come across as naïve and disjointed, but it is here also where the attraction lies. Hall's sometimes abstract prattling narratives have a certain charm. His lyrics vary from the utterly bizarre to the critically perceptive but all the time humour and comical innuendo is never far away.
Hall for the most part doesn't sing his lyrics. He relies more on a sing-speak style delivered in a whining New York accent and it was these poetic renditions that first attracted me to the band. I was initially less enamoured to the heavier punkish grunge-like songs in which Hall's non-melodic vocals meander off key on tracks such as 'Pickaxe', 'It's' and the title track. But after a while even these kind of grow on you and you come to appreciate the accomplished musicianship of Chris Xefos on bass and keyboards, David Ramirez on drums and Dave Rick's guitar work.
For me though, it will always be Hall's slower rhetorical musings that define King Missile as a unique entity. Some of these songs have serious messages. "The Indians" for example is a song about the exploitation of American natives by the 'white man' on which Hall's vocals are accompanied by the a steady beat of Tom Toms. Most tracks however, are tinged with a type of surreal humour perhaps best summed up on the peculiar 'The Boy Who Ate Lasagne and Could Jump over a Church' or the comical ditty 'Scotland' - tracks that bring to mind the work of Scottish poet Ivor Cutler. The stand out track on the album though, has to be the poetically rendered classic 'To Walk Amongst The Pigs' - this has to be my favourite pig song and a defining pig-like moment of the 1990s.
The Way to Salvation was originally promoted with the release of the single, "My Heart Is a Flower". But this and subsequent attempts at achieving commercial success never bore fruit and King Missile were to remain an outfit dependent on a small dedicated cult following. The band split up a few years later but lead singer John S. Hall went on to perform with other musicians concentrating more on poetry. King Missile will not be to everyone's taste but for those interested in the East Coast alternative rock scene of the 1990s (or who truly appreciate pigs in all their splendour) they are certainly worth a perusal.
The Way to Salvation
The Boy Who Ate Lasagna and Could Jump over a Church
The Story of Willy
My Heart Is a Flower
Sex with You
Betrayal Takes Two
Listen to Me
To Walk Among the Pigs
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Way to Salvation
3 Boy Who Ate Lasagna and Could Jump over a Church
4 Story of Willy
6 I Wish
9 My Heart Is a Flower
11 Sex With You
12 Part Two
13 Betrayal Takes Two
14 Listen to Me
15 Come Closer
17 To Walk Among the Pigs