Definitely the start of something new for King Krule as a project.
For years, Archy Marshall has explored the ugliness of existence in his music. King Krule songs could always be counted on to be strange, off-putting and obsessed with the macabre and diseased things of the world. Surprisingly, this fascination, when paired with Marshall’s unique mix of jazz, sophisti-pop and grime, has led to some engaging, brilliant albums, especially as far as where 2017’s The OOZ is concerned. However brilliant that album was, though, its use of horror-film psychosis to relate to worlds both internal and external was something of a culmination for Marshall, and from there, there were only a few directions which he could take King Krule forward. He could keep plumbing those depths forever, or he could pull himself out of humankind’s sewer and look at the world from another perspective. With Man Alive!, Marshall makes an honest effort at the latter.
Sonically, Man Alive! stands as more of an evolution of Marshall’s style than a drastic shift. Anyone coming into a King Krule record likely knows what to expect musically, and Marshall doesn’t leave listeners disappointed. His guitar lines are languid and sinewy as ever, with the only major change being more of an emphasis on cleaner tones than on albums past. Marshall also still has a way of creating bizarre soundscapes, alternating between maximalism (the crashing opener “Cellular”) and minimalism (the surprisingly tender “Alone, Omen 3”). Essentially, Man Alive! offers just as much of a musical smorgasbord as either of King Krule’s previous albums and, on the surface, one could regard it as more of the same if one were so inclined.
Dig deeper, though, and Man Alive! reveals itself to have different aims than its predecessors. Parenthood hasn’t magically made Archy Marshall a tender soul, and Man Alive! definitely has moments of wild paranoia and anger. However, the fear and anger expressed here has a far more sincere tone than it used to. Here, shockingly, Marshall has left his mask of irony at home, writing in disgust about the times he’s living in. “Theme for the Cross” laments the uncertain future of his home country post-Brexit, a future that will be passed on to his child whether he wants it to or not. He rails against toxic masculinity on “Comet Face” while acknowledging that he, at his worst, perpetuates the kinds of behavior he hates. Most surprisingly of all, “Alone, Omen 3” works as a form of reassurance with Marshall pledging to someone that he’s never going to leave them. After years of playing a character in his songs, Archy Marshall finally appears on a King Krule album as himself with Man Alive!
For a lot of people, King Krule is kind of a love-it-or-hate-it proposition. For as many people who love this music, there’s close to an equal amount ready to dismiss King Krule as one-note or too obtuse for his own good. Man Alive! may not sway that group immediately, but it’s definitely the start of something new for King Krule as a project. In moving towards more direct personal expression, Marshall may yet find further weird avenues to explore.