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KING (Buy CDs by this artist)
Steps in Time (Epic) 1984
Bitter Sweet (Epic) 1985
The 12" Tape [tape] (CBS) 1986
PAUL KING
Joy (Epic) 1987
RELUCTANT STEREOTYPES
The Label (UK WEA) 1980

From the ashes of promising rock-ska band the Reluctant Stereotypes, Coventry singer Paul King decided to go for the gold ring with a crass chart-geared quartet he thoughtfully named after himself. Launched in 1983, the colorfully uniformed King (the group) served a noxious, unmelodic pseudo-funk concoction that got an inexplicably favorable response: "Love & Pride" and "Won't You Hold My Hand Now" became hits. Produced (and drummed on) by Richard James Burgess, Steps in Time is filled with alarmingly stupid lyrics, fickle stylistic dabbling, arena-rock attributes and art-school pretensions. Awful.

Bitter Sweet is precisely more of the same. (In fact, the American edition includes "Won't You Hold My Hand Now" for the second time!) Ex-Member Adrian Lillywhite plays the drums, resulting in some improvement in that area, but King (the singer)'s overbearing, tuneless vocals still dominate the band's unpleasant sound. The best thing about this LP is its lyric sheet, which offers no end of unintended giggles. (The 1986 cassette EP collects the 12-inch mixes of King's five best-known singles.)

King's solo career began with Joy, an all-American mock-white-soul album masterminded by one of the acknowledged titans of that dubious genre, Dan Hartman. Dispensing with glam-pop gimmickry, Hartman produced the record with commercial savvy, giving prominent roles to the Uptown Horns and session singers. King wisely curbs his past excesses and gets by on what he has: a mediocre but well-controlled sub-Paul Young voice. The songs are nothing, but at least they're not annoying.

Birmingham's Reluctant Stereotypes — which not only contained King but future Primitive/producer Paul Sampson — played likable reggaefied rock/pop much like another band of the same city and era, the Beat. Similarities include pointed-but-subtle lyrics that avoid clichés while covering political topics, prominent horn work, boppy dance rhythms and high musical standards. Differences include a more free-form, less-soulful approach and stricter adherence to reggae rhythms on most tunes. Comparisons aside, The Label is an ace record by a skillful, inventive band.

[Ira Robbins]