Release Date: Sep 2, 2014
Record label: Astralwerks
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock, Indie Rock
The Kooks have moved a long way from their late-Britpop origins since forming in Brighton 10 years ago. After the success of their first two retro albums, they appeared to have run this well dry with the disappointingly bland Junk Of The Heart in 2011. However, their new album Listen signals a change in direction from indie rock towards a more R&B, dance-oriented sound that may be rather lightweight yet has a bright, infectious energy.
Four albums into their career and it became clear to the Kooks it was time to shake things up. Their third record, 2011's Junk of the Heart, came dangerously close to the middle of the road -- it was excessively polished and reliant on measured pop tunes -- and didn't make anybody's pulse race, so the group decided to take a different tactic on 2014's Listen. Hooking up with Inflo, a British hip-hop producer who makes his big-time debut here, the Kooks definitively take a step toward a fresher, modern music, one that's informed by dance music and rap, not to mention a retro-new wave fetish that's simultaneously old and new.
He might not be quite as far along the hyperbole spectrum as Johnny Borrell, but Luke from the Kooks is certainly no stranger to ludicrous statements. The indie group's frontman is calling his band's fourth full-length a "world music album" – which may be accurate if he's referring to a world that has a west London townhouse filled with smoke clouds and Persian rugs as its epicentre. Still, it's a fun listen, with shades of Ram-era Paul McCartney, the Stones and Shuggie Otis, full of eccentric funk and boogie captured on vintage instruments.
According to The Kooks ever-confident leader Luke Pritchard, new album Listen is a result of the band’s boredom with their own formulaic indie rock sound, a guise that they never even wanted, and influences as unexpected as Ethiopian jazz and gospel are subsequently at the heart of their fourth studio offering following something of a reinvention. Pritchard upped sticks and went off on a tour of America, with New Orleans being one of the destinations, the city’s funk vibe helping shape his new output. He’s since gone on to describe the new work in such diverse ways as “world music” and “electric church music”, whatever the latter means.
‘Listen’ comes with a piece of advice from Luke Pritchard. ”This is evolution, so take my hand”, he sings on ‘Are We Electric’, a dizzying song that sounds like it was created in CBBC’s sound effects cupboard. The frontman conceived The Kooks’ fourth album with hip-hop producer Inflo after escaping to America to write. But rather than evolution, ‘Listen’ offers questionable overindulgence in funk, soul and chopped beats.
Doubtless indie-rock also-rans the Kooks will present their fourth album as the new Screamadelica. It's not. Sure, they've added funk, jazz and gospel to the mix, and enlisted hip-hop producer Inflo, but their meat-and-potatoes pop remains, making for an uncomfortable alliance. The album's sole affecting track is the simplest – See Me Now, in which frontman Luke Pritchard addresses the father who died when he was young.
It is, you would think, the perfect time for The Kooks to return. A quick glance at the more excitable quarters of the music press confirms that Britpop nostalgia and Noughties revisionism is at an all time high, a decade brought back to life almost before it has slipped into the past tense. And it’s not just the retro stylings of Peace, Palma Violets, and other eager millennials who don’t know any better.