Music at it’s very core is about storytelling. It’s about conveying thoughts and emotions. The true music, art if you will, connects with the listener at their emotional core and it moves them in a way that it can be really hard to describe. You just feel something when you hear it. The sophomore album Animal from Chris King could be best summed up this way. The Austin, Texas-based artist came onto many people’s radars a few years ago with his debut album 1983, a decidedly country album full of a lot of great music. It’s one worth checking out if you haven’t heard it, especially his duet with Jamie Lin Wilson on “Man Enough.” But when it comes to his sophomore album Animal you can pretty much throw all your preconceptions of his sound out the window. King now identifies himself as an Americana artist and takes a decidedly more heartland rock-like approach to his music similar to the likes of Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty. If you follow him on Twitter, where he’s always bluntly honest about his thoughts, you could see this coming from King. And yet it still feels a little jarring at first. Then you listen to it more and it all connects. Literally everything on this album connects. This is when you see and understand the sheer brilliance of King and Animal.
The album’s title track is about the self-reflection of a man who knows his way of living is filled with mistakes, but knows this won’t ever change either. Most importantly he knows he’s terrible towards his woman and she knows he’s capable of being kind. It’s an internal struggle within the man that he doesn’t know how to control. The story continues on “Never Make It Last,” where the woman has now left him. He never saw it coming, yet he also saw it never lasting either. Again it’s that internal struggle between the animal in him and his true self that he just can’t decide who and what he should be. It should be noted too that these first two songs on his album signal King’s transition from a country act to Americana quite well. They have a decidedly more rock flavor to them and he sounds quite natural.
“Borderland” takes on a more country approach, not too dissimilar to his debut album 1983. In this song the man realizes he must leave the city as it reminds him too much of her. He knows he’s leaving family and friends behind and he would stay if he could. But he knows he has to leave, as her memory is just too painful to him. Borderland refers to the borderlands of Texas, which is west of San Antonio, east of El Paso and north of the Rio Grande River. It’s a frontier that is far away from the hustle and bustle of the major cities of Texas, the perfect setting for a loner. The man is still in denial over his breakup on “Almost Gone.” Here he’s making his last-ditch attempt at winning his ex over by calling her. But he insists she doesn’t have to answer his calls, as he’s almost gone anyway thanks to his lifestyle. The spacey guitar riffs throughout really compliment the lyrics and tone of the entire song. Not only does it compliment the song, but it’s damn catchy too.
He finally reaches his moment of acceptance on “This City.” He realizes how alone really feels now after isolating himself from everyone he knows in the world and using every coping mechanism he can think of to deal with it. But now he realizes how important his home was to him and misses it dearly. The song is a home is where the heart is moment and something anyone can relate after leaving to set out into the world, whether to escape or find new opportunities. And it’s this song where it really sets into the listener how deep King goes with this story. You can’t really get more raw and down to the nitty-gritty than this. Nostalgia begins to set in on “Karnes County 2002.” The man begins to look through old photos and recalls old memories of what once was in his life. It inspires him to start setting out to make things right in his life, as he realizes the drug that has held him back is loneliness. It makes him think about the dream he has of finally winning everything he’s ever wanted and signals the beginning of a redemption story for him.
“Take It Down” sees the man visiting a local bar he used to enjoy and seeing a Polaroid picture of his ex behind the bar staring back at him. While his buddies are drinking and having a good time, he just can’t stop thinking about the picture. He doesn’t even know if he wants to be with her again, but yet he wishes they would just take it down. He wants to move on, but little things continue to hold him back. Of course on “Deep End” he gives into temptation and starts calling her again. He continues to go over and over again in his head of what happened between them and what he’s been doing to himself since they broke up. The song is so appropriately titled, as he’s finally gone off the deep end and just can’t take it anymore. So he does the only thing he knows to do best and starts to drive.
There’s another moment of self-deprecation for the man as he drives around on “Waiting On Myself.” He knows his “whole life has been a shot off into the dark” and that he is waiting on someone. That someone is himself, the man he knows he can be and what he needs to be to find happiness. It’s the realization he has needed all along. All of the suffering, self-reflection, heartache and second-guessing pays off with redemption on “Martinez Social Club.” The man awakes from his couch and rolls over to see his woman sleeping in the next room after they met up the night before at the Martinez Social Club in San Antonio. He finally has her back in his life again. Yet he’s aware of what he is now and what their relationship means after the emotional journey he has taken. He really still doesn’t want to be in love and in a relationship with someone, as he will always be a loner at heart. But yet he knows he can’t live without her. So he tells her she can pretend to love him and he can pretend to care about it all, making everything look fine to everyone. Basically he now understands love and that folks is one of the greatest lessons we can learn.
Chris King delivers a storytelling masterpiece with Animal. Looking at each song individually on this album, you have some pretty good songs. Put them all together and they all connect for one long, spectacular journey. It’s the journey of a man exploring love, discovery, overcoming mistakes, the unknown and ultimately what we’re all looking for in this crazy thing we call life. Most albums are just a collection of songs, not really all connecting with each other. Sure you’ll find a lot of albums with similar themes and tones throughout, but very rarely do you come across albums that connect from start to finish like Animal does. It should also be pointed out that production on this album is just as flawless as King’s songwriting. Producer John Ross Silva really nails the tone and sound on this album, as it properly reflects the changes in attitude of the main story told throughout. Everything on this album works together perfectly. Chris King shows us all what a true album sounds like. Animal is one of the best albums you’ll hear all year.