Release Date: Sep 13, 2011
Record label: Astralwerks
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock
The Kooks have always had more charm than talent. The U.K. fourpiece’s 2006 eponymous debut was as winning as they come during the first few listens, but its simple pop tunes lost their luster over time. After a largely ignored sophomore set, the quartet is back with a third album burdened with the get-your-jokes-ready title Junk of the Heart.
The press kit for Junk of the Heart makes some pretty authoritative statements about the direction this LP is supposed to take the still-young British indie band. The record is described as a sort of “rebirth” for the group, a shifting of its influences that still manages to retain the signature sound that the group has developed over the past two records. That is a particularly interesting statement of intent: based on their past two outings, 2006’s Inside In/Inside Out and 2008’s Konk, there weren’t any clear indications that the Kooks needed to change.
The last words on this album, delivered with a figurative stamp of the foot, are "No more Mr Nice Guy". So that's us told – the Kooks want out of the corner they painted themselves into by making all that bouncy pop on their first album. But sentiments like that, and song with titles such as Fuck the World Off, probably won't dissuade the schoolgirls who've stuck with them since 2006.
Having watched the likes of Kaiser Chiefs and Hard-Fi crash and burn with their early 2000s changes in direction, fellow mid-noughties indie band the Kooks, perhaps unsurprisingly, only tentatively step outside their usual comfort zone on third effort Junk of the Heart. "Time Above the Earth" smothers Luke Pritchard's distinctive, slurring tones in layers of lush strings to produce the band's first fully orchestral offering, "Taking Pictures of You" is a slightly experimental slice of ambient pop, packed with languid grooves, buzzing synths, and reverb-drenched reverse guitar effects, while "Runaway" has shades of the Police with its cod-reggae beats, subtle synths, and new wave melodies. But with regular producer Tony Hoffer (Beck, Air) still on board, the majority of Junk's 12 tracks feature the same kind of inoffensive, acoustic, Brit-pop songs about girls that saw debut Inside In, Inside Out and follow-up Konk top the U.
“I’m not saying it was your fault/Although you could have done more” There’s no denying The Kooks’ debut contained some worthwhile tunes. It may take an unintended night at an indie disco and a few pints of crème de menthe to unlock this guilty admission, but it’s one of those slightly grubby facts of life. Drowned In Sound themselves have struggled with this; Kev Kharas’ review of Inside In/Inside Out awarded Brighton’s rising stars a heady 8/10, in the process labelling them a ‘less irreverent and more melodic Art Brut, swapping that band’s caustic wit for a far nicer type of honesty’.
Most people still regard [a]The Kooks[/a] as a kind of shrink-wrapped [a]Libertines[/a] for pre-teens: The Libertweenies, if you will. This is harsh, especially when you consider even Johnny bloody Borrell was accusing them of being shameless careerists. Still, the poor reception that greeted ‘[b]Konk[/b]’ way back in 2008 would seem to suggest that the mud stuck.
Even though the UK charts continue to voice a general disinterest for guitar-based rock music, there’s the occasional group of young lads who manage to hopscotch into the top by making a killing with a couple of appealing tunes. The Kooks capitalized on what was left of the noughties garage revival in a big way. They also were versatile enough to pose as much more sophisticated than their young at heart fixations premeditated – Eddie’s Gun and You Don’t Love Me went a step above Britrock conventions with their stripped down riffs and vivacious energy, while Naïve flipped the coin with a silky, swag-approved pop romp that guaranteed a hoard of females to cry for their attention on stage.
Messy and meandering, surely this third album isn’t the product of three years’ work? Natalie Shaw 2011 The Kooks’ 2006 debut LP, Inside In/Inside Out, has sold an outstanding two million copies; their 2008 follow-up Konk entered the charts at the top, taking the number one spot from Duffy. There’s little doubt, however, that time has diluted the effectiveness of Luke Pritchard’s once attractively fey yet laddish squawk. While common sentiment in a song can still paralyse the purse-strings, The Kooks’ gormless image and strained ambiguities now feel even more cynical.