ALBUM REVIEW: The Kooks – ‘Listen’
Ask people now, and I’d argue that a fair amount of them would remember The Kooks’ first album ‘Inside In / Inside Out’. It was one of those albums of the moment, it encapsulated the summer of 2006. You couldn’t go to a festival that year and not bounce around in the sunshine to their happy, simple indie-pop songs. Cut to 2014 and after an extended break, The Kooks are back with their fourth studio album ‘Listen’.
There are a number of strong tracks on the record, but ‘Forgive & Forget’ instantly and easily stands out from the rest. It’s juxtaposed heartbreak lyrics and funky melody and beat make it the perfect sing-a-long festival song. It takes all the fun elements of early hits like ‘Naive’ and ‘She Moves In Her Own Way’ and evolves them by giving the group a more soulful sound. It also quickly becomes clear on listening to the album why ‘Around Town’ and ‘Down’ were picked as singles. Aside from being the two other biggest songs on ‘Listen’, these songs perhaps best sum up what The Kooks are trying to communicate about where they are musically. They also the best produced and most consistent pieces of work.
Throughout the record Pritchard’s voice is very much at harmony with a funkier sound. It sounds less try-hard and more relaxed, as if he’s understood that less is more when it comes to a voice like his. His tone is so distinct, there’s no need to indulge in vocal theatrics. He provides the fresh energy that gives this album the pace it needs.
Where the record starts to fall down is it’s departure from their original sound. Of course artists need to evolve, but problems arise when that evolution doesn’t really resonate in the music they are making. There’s evidence of a good amount of experimentation here, although some of it feels done for the sake of it. ‘Westside’ doesn’t sound like a track The Kooks would make. It has a Foster The People ring to it, with more of an electronic feel. Whether that is a good or a bad thing is debatable. ‘See Me Now’ carries more emotional depth than you’d perhaps expect compared to a lot of the other tracks, and it’s a fair effort at a ballad by a band not particularly known for them. Though compared to their contemporaries it doesn’t necessarily stack up. ‘It Was London’ sounds like wishes it had been recorded in the seventies; it perhaps doesn’t quite pull it off. It’s essentially Austin Powers but without his mojo.
‘Listen’ may be a revolutionary record for The Kooks, but it isn’t particularly pioneering for music in general. With its general appeal and crowd-pleasing moments it will stand as one of their better albums but it lacks a consistent sound and feel. It’s trying to do too many things at once. The magic that the singles seemed to promise isn’t quite delivered. It’s a massive departure for them and their signature sound, but that isn’t necessarily a good thing.