After months of touring, teasing, and releasing singles one by one, The Kooks have released their next project. Listen is the foursome’s fourth album. The 11-track effort became available across listening platforms (such as Spotify) today.
It’s been coming for months, but now that the British guitar band has fully revealed what they’ve been up to since 2011, fans are slightly confused. The album isn’t punk-turned-pop, as some might have expected, so much as it’s a large fusion of multiple genres, a toy chest of things we recognize but aren’t so sure that we want in this state. It’s as if they spontaneously decided to indulge every musical whim that flit across their minds during recording sessions.
But who hasn’t changed their musical style over the years? Fall Out Boy, Vampire Weekend, and The Arctic Monkeys are just a handful that diverged from their Day 1 identities. The perplexity of Listen is the feeling that we’ve all heard these styles from someone else. Inside In / Inside Out (2006), Konk (2008) and Junk of the Heart (2011), while different, were distinctly Kooky. With a few exceptions (and we noted them), the not-unpleasant Listen just feels not-The-Kooks.
Here are most of the tracks, ranked by their level of Kooks-identifiability.
Bad Habit – “You say you want it but, you can’t get it.” Pritchard’s warble wail takes over at every opportunity – it couldn’t be anyone else. The already much-loved track was released on its own prior to Listen.
Westside – This one isn’t new, as they’ve been performing it for almost a year (and avid fans already like it). That’s half the reason it’s attributable to them. The rest comes from the a cappella bridge, the accents that come through, and Pritchard’s easy spinning out of each verse, making it sound like improv. What’s weird is the synth. Perhaps they’ve been listening to Bear In Heaven.
It Was In London – Sheryl Crow or Suzanne Vega strummy chords open this one, but a merciful manifestation of Kookiness is here: London is referenced (back to their roots), mention of what’s “on the television,” and background punk-rock short screams/cubbish roars come near the end.
Sweet Emotion is finger-snapping cool. The bluesy groove sounds like a cover of early Paolo Nutini, with Luke Pritchard’s vocal nuances toned back to sound more like the soulful Scotlander. No, it doesn’t sound like them, but at least their energy is right on.
Forgive and Forget – It’s joyous, yes, but after a misleading 30-second intro, it’s so throwbacky that it sounds like it was trying hard to make it into a Fourth of July cookout playlist. Several 60’s/70’s songs come to mind as inspiration, but the first is “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” with the vintage spunk of “Sweet Home Alabama.” Cue the suspicious-faced meme reading, “Nothing the Kooks did ever.”
Dreams – “Baby in the morning, pour me your dreams. Don’t bring me coffee, I’m somewhere in between.” In Between Dreams by Jack Johnson, anyone? This mellow rainy-morning tune gets a little shake up with some fuzzy electric effects in between the verses, though it still sounds like the eighth or ninth track on a Johnson album.
See Me Now – Keane’s “Somewhere Only We Know” came before it, and did everything it’s trying to do. British influence included.
Are We Electric – “This is evolution, so please just take my hand… We’re electric together” The track uses electric 80’s effects, but it can’t pretend it’s not purely pop in the style of Fitz and the Tantrums. Actually, it sounds a bit like The Indies’ “Emotional Billionaire” – the difference is that one of these songs took itself too seriously.
Sunrise – Reminiscent of faded pop fixation Rob Thomas (“Lonely No More”), but without the strength of a straightforward delivery, the rhythm wants to trick us into thinking it’s fun. But this particular two-chord repetition (through both the verses and chorus) can’t be saved – not even by the cheery cowbell or the syncopated claps.