It feels like a lifetime ago when The Kooks hit our ears with the summer sounds of She Moves in Her Own Way and Seaside. It’s almost 10 years ago since these singles were released, and the band have struggled to hit the same heights musically, as their seminal debut album Inside In/Inside Out. With a mix of changing band members, singer Luke Pritchard’s ego, and heavy touring schedules they seemed destined to fade into obscurity. However, with a fresh sound and a difference in attitude, new album Listen appears to shy away from their past in an attempt to create an album for themselves, with new ideas and a change of priority.
The first thing you notice is the retrospective outlook throughout Listen. The lyrics frequently look back to the past, instead of the focusing on the present – the present being a trait of earlier records. Age is a determining factor here, and lead singer Luke Pritchard appears to have shed some of his egotistical ways and matured. Around Town is testament to this with its funky, Kasabian-tinged synth sound running over a beat that sits well against Luke’s recognisable vocals: ‘You can try and be someone you’re not’ he sings, maybe reflecting on his past and his comparisons to other singers such as Pete Doherty.
And I think that’s the point of the album – to invent something new and brave. The album is a sound that hasn’t been tried by the band before, and in most cases it really works. With producing duties credited to both Luke and young hip-hop pioneer Inflo, tracks such as Down create a sound of beats, breaks and energy that haven’t appeared in Kooks songs before. In fact Down is an album highlight, with its intro vocal solo sitting pretty against Inflo’s influence later on, tailoring Luke’s voice to the new sound.
The popular 80s sound of the moment pops up often, featuring heavily on tracks such as Forgive and Forget and Westside. The former features nods of early Kookiness before turning into a Prince inspired funkathon, whereas the latter’s musicianship wouldn’t feel out of place on the soundtrack to Ryan Gosling movie Drive.
See Me Now is a beautiful sentimental piece that speaks volumes about the maturity of the band, and Pritchard in particular. With lyrics going deeper than ever before and Luke reaching out to missing family, it shows humility in this tearjerker straight from the heart.
For all its high points, the album does seem to fizzle out a little by the end. Dreams is supposed to be stripped back, but ends up sounding weak and not managing to play up to the mystical feel enough, whereas the album’s two closing tracks are hit and miss. Sunrise easily finds decent hooks and finesse, but Sweet Emotion feels a little laboured and doesn’t have the same bite as the previous song.
But for these minor blips, The Kooks should be praised for Listen. It was a strong-minded decision to change their sound this much, and the bravery has paid off. The staleness has been lifted and a new Kooks have risen from the flames seeming settled, in control, and hungry for the limelight once more. Die-hard Kooks fans might not appreciate the change, but they will win more fans with the pleasing change in direction.