Album Review of Listen by The Kooks
Before you go on, I must warn you prior to writing this, I have never been a massive fan of The Kooks. Some of their material has been OK, but I have struggled to comprehend how they have forged out such a powerful career in music and garner such favour from the masses and critics alike.
That being said, always like to be proved wrong and as Listen is one of the big releases, I sat back to give The Kooks latest release a listen. Would they change my opinion with a groundbreaking sound or cement my views by dishing up the languid, lazy indie that they always have. (I am aware I am in the minority there)
Straight off, the fact that lead singer describes Listen as “a fusion world music album” worried me. That seems wholly pretentious and code for “we didn’t really have a direction and just threw together some experimental stuff”. OK that is harsh and these experimental albums do sometimes work. Not sure I can remember one really working extremely well since Gangstarr’s Guru produced Jazzmatazz back in the 90s.
Anyway lets move on. The Kooks team up with Hip Hop producer Inflo. Yes you read that right and no, I don’t know him either. However, what the collaboration does do is add some different flavours to the factory sounding indie you may be used to. There are hints of beats and a little bit of a urban twist to the sound. Don’t get too excited though, they are very mild hints, kind of like the slight hint of coriander you might (or might not) be able to taste in a cheap takeaway Madras.
I am not sure what influences The Kooks used for this latest body of music or even frankly what possessed them. I think they may have thought they added a funk flavour to their music. They may have even felt they have delivered an urban crossover, but I just can’t hear it. I am not sure it will even appeal to their traditional indie crowd.
Some of the vocal deliver feels off key or in need of production treatment. The screeches in parts shattered glasses in my house and my dog’s once fine hearing is no more thanks to a perforated ear drum. I can only imagine that they were going for the Frank Ocean or Prince sound, without really reaching the heights of either.
The album is littered with disasters. Dreams is about as exciting as going to the store of the same name. Westside seems as dated as the Ali G references some years before. The funniest moment on the album is London. I am not sure what was going on here and who ever wrote the lyrics should be shot immediately. Perhaps the wrong term to use, as the track attempts a bit of social commentary in to the state of life in London, including the Tottenham (or as they say Tott’Nam) events of a couple of years ago.
There are a couple of moments that fans of The Kooks might like. See Me Now, a stripped back ballad, lead by the clearly emotional Pritchard singing about his father who passed away when Pritchard was young.
Perhaps the highlight of the entire album was the last track. No that isn’t me trying to be funny in suggesting its the end, so it has to be good. Although psychologically that may be in there. The final track Sweet Emotion is the only track on the whole album that seems to realise what the point of “a fusion world music album” actually is. It mixes some nice short chord changes, hinting towards Motown influences with strong guitar riffs and great gospel influences through the music.
Sadly, Sweet Emotion is not enough to change my opinion. That feels like they stumbled on something by accident and is not reflective of the true ability. My tip, even if you are a fan of The Kooks, avoid the album and buy See Me Now and Sweet Emotion as singles.
On a more positive note. I think The Kooks have just managed to prove what I always thought about them, maybe some of you will now join my team.