The Saints

King of the Sun/King of the Midnight Sun

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Ever since Chris Bailey became the uncontested leader of the Saints after the departure of co-founder Ed Kuepper, it's been hard to know what to expect from the band when a new album emerges -- will Bailey be in the mood for glossy pop, stripped-down rock & roll, contemplative folk-rock, or something else altogether? Seemingly Bailey himself couldn't quite decide what he wanted for the songs that formed the basis of the 2012 album King of the Sun. A song cycle that purportedly deals with a soldier making his way home after the Hundred Years' War, much of the material on King of the Sun is ambiguous enough that it's hard to figure out what the narrative is supposed to be, but the melodies are simple yet strong and graceful, Bailey's vocals are smoky but full of easy authority, and the arrangements are evocative and cinematic, mostly built around acoustic guitars and keyboards, with horns and strings providing additional texture on many tracks. However, for King of the Sun's 2014 release in the U.S., U.K., and Europe, Bailey has paired the album with King of the Midnight Sun, which features the same 11 songs re-recorded with a lean rock & roll band, featuring guitarist Barrington Francis and drummer Peter Wilkinson (both of whom play in Bailey's touring version of the Saints but don't appear on the 2012 set). King of the Midnight Sun leans on electric guitars instead of the more baroque arrangements on the original set, but the band plays at the same midtempo pace as on the acoustic-oriented recordings, and despite the added firepower, most of the songs just sound sludgy; King of the Midnight Sun may be more "rock," but it doesn't really rock significantly harder, which makes the electrified version seem pointless after a while (though the closer, "Adventures in the Dark Arts of Watermelonery," does sound significantly better in a power trio arrangement). All by itself, King of the Sun isn't one of the Saints' best albums, but it is a skillful exercise in folk-rock that's arty without seeming pretentious; paired with King of the Midnight Sun, it seems like an experiment in how to approach a set of songs that's more interesting in theory than execution.

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