You have to hand it to Kooks frontman Luke Pritchard: he may come across like Johnny Borrell’s understudy at times, but he’s never shied away from searching out new directions, musically.
In the case of 2011’s Junk of the Heart, that proved fairly disastrous, the bland and indifferent album effectively squandering the goodwill built up through the Kooks’ first two albums. But switching producers yet again, for young London hip-hopper Inflo, and drawing on unexpected influences from gospel to New Orleans, the band have managed to pull it off again, with an engaging collection that refuses to be hidebound by the strictures of indie-rock.
The opener “Around Town” features an oddly infectious collusion of slick funk-rock groove and gospel-choir refrain, periodically affirming “Oh yeah!” as Pritchard outlines his need for “someone to drive around to”. “Forgive and Forget” continues the new funky direction, with Inflo’s muscular, spartan production designed for maximum power: it’s all very Blockheads, an association emphasised by the inclusion of a “Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll” guitar figure. A drum-loop of the Meters’ Zigaboo Modeliste lends an inimitable high-tensile spring to “Down”, although new drummer Alexis Nunez is a powerful, inventive addition throughout, driving the rockier tracks forcefully, but tempering the attack for the rimshot shuffle behind the acoustic guitar and warbling synth of “Dreams”. Elsewhere, “Are We Electric” and “Westside” employ sleek, galloping electropop synths with a lingering aftertaste of The Killers.
Lyrically, “It Was London” offers catchy but facile commentary on the riots (“Nothing was said about the shooting, just the looting”), while Pritchard reveals the vulnerability lurking beneath his brash exterior on “See Me Now”, a piano ballad directed at the father who died early in his childhood. “If you could see me now, see your little boy, would you be proud?” he wonders, after boasting with charming, childlike naivete, “I learned to tie my own tie too”.
The Kooks, Listen