The Kooks’ pop aspirations make it difficult to Listen

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Zane Nyhus

On September 1, the Kooks released their fourth album, Listen— an indie-rock album that fuses gospel-choir, jazzy beats and synth pop.  Having made it big only in 2006 with their debut album, Inside In/Inside Out, front man Luke Pritchard said that their new album was about rediscovering “that kind of fearlessness when you make the first album.” This experimental approach with which the Kooks took to their new album is understandable, considering the harsh reception their last album Junk of the Heart received for being too bland.

Listen begins with the song “Around Town,” an upbeat song that has Pritchard needing someone to “love me when the chips are down.” The catchy riffs and gospel choir complement each other well in this vibrant opener.  From there, the Kooks move straight into their next song, “Forgive and Forget.” This song starts out with another enjoyable guitar riff, but soon progresses into “death by pop,” where the Kooks sound more like a One Direction boy band than an indie rock group.

One of the highlights of the album for me is the song “See Me Now.” The album’s simplest song delivers a nice balance of gospel with touching lyrics “If you could see me now, if you could see my smile.  See a little boy, well would you be proud?”

Garage rock takes over in “Bad Habit,” where I think the Kooks get their sound just right.  The gospel choir opens the song with subtle “Oh’s,” while its mix of bluesy guitar fills and tambourine shakes revisits some of the elements that made this Brighton-based band famous in the first place.

The next song on the album is one that the band released back in April.  “Down” is a very plucky, swaggering song that emphasizes the direction of the album Listen.  Alexis Nunez, the band’s new drummer, leads the way in this song with strong percussion beats.  But with a chorus that goes “down down diggity down down diggy diggy,” the song is too much of a sing-along pop melody for me to enjoy.

Nunez is also the driving force behind the other various electric synth-pop songs such as “Are We Electric” and “It Was London.” These songs are much more upbeat and poppy than what Kooks fans are used to hearing.  While the Kooks are very often compared to the Libertines, many songs on their new album are almost reminiscent of Foster the People.

Verdict:  The Kooks’ fourth album provides an infectious funk sound that demonstrates the way that this young band has evolved.  However, they still have a knack for writing softer songs.  In “See Me Now,” Pritchard delivers a beautifully poignant ballad about his father who died when he was young.  While I give credit to the Kooks for pushing the envelope of what’s considered “indie rock,” the gospel/jazz/synth/hip-hop mash-up becomes too overwhelming.  The album also feels a bit too frenetic at times, and if they featured more songs with a minimalist approach, Listen would be much easier to…well…listen.

 

3/5 stars