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The National Trust - Kings & Queens

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Artist: The National Trust

Album: Kings & Queens

Label: Thrill Jockey

Review date: Mar. 5, 2006

Kings & Queens, the second album of late-’70s, funk-into-disco glitz from The National Trust, falls flat. More like faithful reiterations of soul cliches than anything fresh or interesting, nearly every track will remind you of someone else: "New Sexy Touch" of Diamonds & Pearls-vintage Prince, "Secrets" of disco-fied George Benson, "It's Just Cruel" of Earth Wind & Fire's fantasmagoric dance phase, "Shapes & Sizes" of Chic's bass-and-hi-hat overdrives. While the details are right, there's something hollow at the core. The twitchy guitars, the percolations of synthetic bass, the sex-heavy sighs – all are accurate without being particularly true. These songs have the glitter-ball era's excesses but not its desperate giddiness.

This second album is a more lavish affair than 2002's Dekkagar, its songs thickly layered with congas, strings, saxophones, brass and falsetto choruses. While the first album mined mostly soul stylings – Shuggie Otis' psychedelia alongside the Chi-Lites' bedroom croons – the second one slips heavily into disco.

On the plus side, Kings & Queens is immaculately produced and full of white space, dense without being crowded. "Secrets" credits nine musicians and more than 20 instruments, yet every flute trill, every conga slap, is thrown into sharp relief. "Stages" sounds like a Latin orchestra, with its multilayered percussion, choral harmonies and brass flourishes from the eight-horn Hypnotic, yet the sounds never blur together. That's a tribute, obviously, to the skills of engineer Abel Garabaldi, whose mainstream pop client base includes R. Kelly and Ciara. Still, the very cleanliness of the production is what puts these cuts at a distance, makes them too sharp and glossy to care about. The best cuts are the minimalist ones – the glitch-funk menace of "Elevators,” the gleefully obscene "Jacuzzis" the conga/synth pop-and-crackle of "We Can't Do No Wrong." Like Prince, they're best when they rein way back, ditching the orchestral arrangements for bare-bones funk.

Not everyone is as fond of the disco era as The National Trust's Neil Rosario and Mark Henning appear to be, but those that are will probably not find Kings & Queens especially satisfying. "Show and Tell" sounds like Prince until you play it next to Prince...at which point it sounds like a waxwork of Prince, technically correct but fundamentally unmoving.

By Jennifer Kelly

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