Updated: Sep 6, 2018
You have to feel sorry for The Kooks. Since their debut album Inside In/Inside Out in 2006: the zeitgeist of the UK indie landscape of the time with their anthemic sing-a-long choruses and thickly-accented, exuberant verses, they have been chasing the mirage of their defining moment of success ever since. It has been an exhausting pursuit to watch; rolling out album after album trying to replicate that twinkling English optimism that was at once their strongest pitch and greatest failing. Here we are, once more: The Kooks are taking another shot at clinging to relevance with their latest album ‘Let’s Go Sunshine’.
Hats off to the Brighton foursome: an attempt has been made to meld their universal appeal to a new sound. The word ‘new’ I use in the loosest sense – it’s not so much new as it’s not another rehash of their previous jangling Britpop. Maybe their sound has grown up a little from its 2006 adolescence? In ‘Believe’ the opening instrumental lends itself to a more atmospheric sturm und drang and their guitarwork carries that same catchiness with a newfound maturity. But, in their typical vein, they couldn’t resist peppering the song with Pritchard’s ‘da da da-da daa’s – would it really be theirs if it wasn’t strewn with sing-a-long ad-libs? ‘Kids’ evokes something similar, packing in a punch in what is a tonally variegated album.
In ‘Fractured and Dazed’ it’s nice to see that they haven’t done away with their acoustic guitars and coruscating piano. For fans looking to bathe in that retrospective summer sunshine their music effused from the ‘Junk Of The Heart’ days – this might be the one for you. It’s sweetly sentimental in their capable hands. Pritchard’s voice is still imbued with an effervescence that will never age; you remember why you fell in love with that voice in the first place. The breakdown toward the end leads to a riffing crescendo of almost endearing predictability. It ceases to impress; for better or for worse, you get what you expect.
The Kooks thrive at festivals: they have, and will always be, sure-fire successes in a live atmosphere. ‘Four Leaf Clover’ was the induction of ‘Let’s Go Sunshine’ to their hoards of fans. Telling a story of hedonism stemming from heartbreak, there is a noticeable – and commendable – dichotomy between the sunny disposition of the instrumentation and the jaded tone of the lyrics. This kind of dynamic is far more suited to The Kooks if they intend to involve; it’s far more suited than ‘Pamela’, with its racing, rock’n’roll guitar work that seems like a shoddy homage to The Fratellis. The Kooks are liable to earn more respect without kneading out menial lyrics such as ‘Oh Pamela what did you do / You touched the ground and I fell in love with you’.
There are a couple of dark horses on ‘Let’s Go Sunshine’, where you question what on earth is going on here. One of these is ‘Honey Bee’. Its balmy, buoyant acoustic sound punctuated with clapping sadly accentuates the nasally sound to Pritchard’s voice we’d rather forget. ‘Honey Bee’ was inspired by Luke Pritchard’s dad, which might explain the inexplicable guest vocals, grainy of a time gone by, embedded halfway through. The choice might have pleasantly surprised or irked fans – nevertheless The Kooks should be praised for experimenting with their creative choices, irrespective of whether they serve a purpose or not. The second track that might dumbfound the umbrella fan is ‘Initials for Gainsbourg’, which opens with some strange parroting French children trying to enunciate the title. An ultimately directionless song: half-dedicated to Serge Gainsbourg, half-dedicated to the usual ‘being young and in love’ trope that is, quite frankly, boring, ‘Initials For Gainsbourg’ though different, might be best left forgotten.
For a 16-track album, ‘Let’s Go Sunshine’ has these fleeting moments of greatness that are a cleft of light in the darkness of pedestrian landfill indie. Greatness, though, is a relative term. ‘Let’s Go Sunshine’ is not great, not even remotely, but there are songs that make it sincerely enjoyable to listen to. The Kooks were once household names, but now they appear to be riding off the coattails, leaving in their wake a trail of immemorable, mediocre songs you will listen to once and never listen to again. It’s alright, and somehow that’s a greater disappointment than being terrible. I’m sorry to say The Kooks are still as stagnant as they left off.
WORDS BY SOPHIE WALKER