Music Reviews

The Kooks Listen

(Virgin EMI) Rating - 5/10

According to The Kooks ever-confident leader Luke Pritchard, new album Listen is a result of the band’s boredom with their own formulaic indie rock sound, a guise that they never even wanted, and influences as unexpected as Ethiopian jazz and gospel are subsequently at the heart of their fourth studio offering following something of a reinvention.

Pritchard upped sticks and went off on a tour of America, with New Orleans being one of the destinations, the city’s funk vibe helping shape his new output. He’s since gone on to describe the new work in such diverse ways as “world music” and “electric church music”, whatever the latter means. The change of course has also been influenced by the band’s choice of hip-hop producer Inflo to oversee proceedings, his suggestion of Pritchard writing a letter to his father – who passed away when Pritchard was just three years old – directly resulting in a “beautiful” song according to its writer. In truth, See Me Now is a sad, piano led track that isn’t particularly outstanding but the tear-jerking lyrics will resonate with many a father that ever stops to think “what if”.

Opening track Around Town was apparently the catalyst that the entire set was built around, being the first to be penned whilst Pritchard was on his travels and it’s easily the catchiest – and best – track on the album, its gospel tinged backing vocals blending superbly with subtle guitar licks and Pritchard’s musings about needing “someone to love when the chips are down”. Forgive And Forget then brings a dancey, funky vibe as the band you once knew all but disappear, piano, handclapping, and hi-hat all contributing to the cut alongside rubbery bass. Westside’s brilliant verses are let down somewhat by a mundane synth-chord backed chorus for a track written about friends embarking on married lives whilst It Was London’s intro sounds a little too Sheryl Crow at first before depicting the London riots through more funky guitar riffs and repetitive chords. 

Bad Habit utilises prominent percussion and more handclapping alongside one of the more guitar orientated numbers; single Down is the most obvious track to be influenced by its hip-hop producer, the “down-down diggety-down-down” lyrics sounding a little too basic and uninspiring before a drab call and response section. Pritchard has a liking for Ethiopian jazz, and there is a distinct jazz flavour to Dreams, its snake charmer-like fuzzy synth line helping to create a track that changes the albums course once again before Are We Electric takes on a cheesy ‘80s disco stance. Sunrise opens to more handclaps before developing an up tempo jazzy, calypso-like presence; closer Sweet Emotion benefits from funky, twanging bass but ultimately sounds like a mish-mash before jazz-tinged piano takes the song to its conclusion.

After playing Listen from start to finish it’s clear that the boys from Brighton have travelled a long way since 2006’s debut Inside In/Inside Out. With a diverse range of influences, it’s inevitable that the collection slightly struggles to gel cohesively and the band’s oldest fans are likely to loathe the new direction. Pritchard has even said it feels like a new band, so for the die-hards, prepare to be faced with a dilemma, as Listen is set to force you into either accepting the band’s new identity or hitting upon the realisation that the band you originally fell in love with have moved on.