A change is gonna come: The strangest modern musical reinventions

Ever since Bob Dylan went electric and David Bowie began painting his face, musicians have been reinventing themselves. The Kooks are about to do the same, and they’re not alone 

The Kooks

The Kooks have been synonymous with anthemic guitar-pop since their debut album Inside In/Inside Out brought hits “Naive”, “She Moves in Her Own Way”, and “Ooh La”. The band have talked about reinvention before, when they released the not-so-experimental Konk, but their upcoming album Listen, out in September, is the real deal, taking a leap in the direction of soul, R&B, gospel and hip-hop. Singer songwriter Luke Pritchard joined forces with young hip-hop producer Inflo, explored the territory of New Orleans funk, and aimed to make an “upbeat soul record”. It’s a winning formula, as seen in singles “Down” and “Around Town”, due in June.

Kate Nash

Tagged as Lily Allen-lite after her 2007 breakthrough Made of Bricks which saw her win Best British Female at the Brits, Kate Nash swapped twee pop for riot grrrl with its follow-up My Best Friend is You in 2010. Its grungier lo-fi sound was less commercially successful than her debut, and saw her dropped by her record label, Fiction. She returned, grungey look and black hair replacing the girly tea-dresses, with a third album Girl Talk that saw her further shun the mainstream, delving into the territory of lo-fi punk.

Bill Callahan

Who’d have thought the lo-fi rock singer-songwriter of Smog was a dub fan? He revealed his love for the genre last year, when he put out – as the lead single to promote his album Dream River – a surprise dub version of “Javelin Unlanding”. Perversely, the dub version didn’t appear on that album, but early this year Callahan released a full dub album Have Fun With God, reworking the eight songs of Dream River. Inspired by 1970s dub and Jamaican music, Callahan said in an interview: “Dub is a spiritual, abstract, visceral, mystical thing.”

Nick Mulvey

Former founder member and percussionist in Mercury-nominated jazz collective Portico Quartet, Nick Mulvey has found new burgeoning success as a left-field acoustic folkie. He applies Spanish-style acoustic guitar picking, learned on a Cuban guitar course, most winningly on melodic singles “Cucurucu” and “Fever to the Form”, which drive along with lilting offbeat rhythms. He’s already approaching the mainstream, finding his way onto Radio 1 playlists, and has sold out every UK gig he’s played over past six months, including the Scala in March, and Village Underground this month, all before the release of his debut album. He has fans in Laura Marling, Ben Howard and London Grammar who have all asked him to support.

Justin Hayward-Young

Back in 2009, Justin Young was known as Jay Jay Pistolet, a troubadour playing twee nu-folk sometimes coloured by brass and strings, with the sensitive lyrics to match. Perhaps realising that the music scene didn’t need another folk troubadour, he decided to reignite guitar music instead, forming The Vaccines in 2010 and gaining thousands more fans in the process. The London quartet’s bursts of post-punk guitar-pop led to a No 4 which would become the biggest-selling debut album by a band in 2011, and was followed by the chart-topping Come of Age in 2012.

Radiohead

In 1998, following their hit with OK Computer that took the Oxford band to the top of the charts for the first time, Radiohead were stuck in a rut. Thom Yorke was plagued by writer’s block, reduced to turning up to see his producer, Nigel Godrich, with incomplete lyrics.  But Radiohead used their frustration to make a radical shift away from drums and guitar-led indie rock into the worlds of jazz, classical music and electronica. Kid A was born, and the left-field release shot into top position in the chart.

Charlie Simpson

The frontman of successful pop-punk boy band Busted had two million-selling studio albums in 2002 and 2003, and two BRIT Awards. But all along Simpson was harbouring a desire to front a heavy rock and emo band, and in 2005 he quit Busted to focus on Fightstar. Simpson’s rock band has been on hiatus since 2010 to make way for his new direction as a solo artist. His debut solo album Young Pilgrim, with acoustic guitar and piano, went into the charts at No 7, and its follow-up is due this summer.

MGMT

After providing the hits of 2008 summer festivals with sing-along singles “Kids” and “Time to Pretend”, the Brooklyn duo took a sharp route from the synth-pop that made them stars, releasing an album devoid of singles. Their motive? To encourage the album as an art form to be played through, in order. Ben Goldwasser explained the tactic: “We’d rather people hear the whole album as an album and see what tracks jump out rather than the ones that get played on the radio – if anything gets played on the radio. There definitely isn’t a “Time to Pretend” or a “Kids” on the album.” Instead it featured meandering psychedelic prog-rock tracks such as the epic 12-minute-long “Siberian Breaks”, that some considered  commercial suicide.

Lauryn Hill

The former Fugee’s debut The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill was a Grammy-winning, multi-million selling album that established her as a pioneer of hip-hop and nu-soul. But her 2002 follow-up, the live album MTV Unplugged 2.0, took a courageous swerve away from the smart hip-hop that made her name into meandering folk and acoustic soul. The 106-minute journey through new material, performed live and stripped-back on acoustic guitar, featured lengthy between-song monologues about her struggles with the emptiness of fame, and God. There hasn’t been a full-length release from Hill since.

Nick Mulvey releases ‘First Mind’ on 12 May on Communion Records; The Kooks’ ‘Listen’ is out on 1 September on EMI/Virgin; Charlie Simpson releases ‘Long Road Home’ on 14 July

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