The Kooks are, as their name suggests, an interesting band. They have a history that is wrapped in the turmoil. A prime example of this was the firing of Max Ratterty in 2008 shortly before releasing their second studio album Konk – which reflected the state of disarray that the band was in. This disarray continued into Junk of the Heart, which was just a poor decision musically as it replicated the contrived sound that characterized Konk. The Kooks seemed to understand where they were heading and decided to take a break from music to go “find themselves”. A wise decision considering that the band was close to the point of crashing and burning.
The question that surrounds The Kooks new album Listen is if the band actually did find themselves. What did they find out in that musical wasteland of indefinite hiatus? Well, it seems that they found a hip-hop producer to help produce what is an undeniably indie pop album. It isn’t a hip-hop album, but you can hear that there is a hip-hop influence to the album. The drum beats are slightly heavier, there is a much more potent sense of rhythm and it sounds a lot deeper than your typical light-hearted indie pop album. Obviously, indie pop is being used in the loosest of terms when it comes to describing Listen. The album is a massive mash-up of various elements from different genres. It would be better to refer to it by some pretentious label like indie fusion-world pop or something horrid like that, but I don’t lack the dignity to descend to that level.
The overwhelming feeling you get from Listen is that if The Kooks found themselves then they happened to find a disjointed version of themselves. Gone is that boy-ish and fun-loving spirit that accompanied their platinum-selling debut album. It is instead replaced by something more sophisticated, yet just as eccentric. Listen opens with a fluttering of synth and a funky bass riff which is under-pined by, if I’m not mistaken, a gospel choir. “Around a Town” demonstrates an entirely new side of The Kooks as it turns out to be a full blown pop song that happens to be obscure enough to be labelled as indie pop. This is a similar spirit that can be heard on their overpowering lead single “Down” which sounds a lot like something that could be found on Ed Sheeran’s new album. The song takes the form of an awkward, yet catchy, pop song that has dabbled with some hip hop yet discovered that it actually doesn’t really like hip hop, but cannot get rid of it.
“Forgive and Forget” brings back the indie pop energy that gave The Kooks their fame and there is very little synth to distract you from with the sweet and seductive guitar melodies and the dreamy vocals of Luke Pritchard. This same spirit is carried onto the funky rhythm of “Are We London” which progresses into the upbeat “Bad Habit”, which is punctuated by a staccato screech of guitar. “Dreams” features a brooding hum, which reminds you of songs like “Sway” and “Stormy Weather”.
Despite the throwbacks to their old sounds, The Kooks still make it evident that they are an entirely new band on Listen. Even those songs that make you think of their old material are peppered with new influences that hint towards smooth jazz and a much loftier synthetic indie pop sound. You can hear it from how easily they turn to synth in songs like “Are We Electric” – something that that they are most certainly not. The dark and sultry bass riffs of “Sweet Emotion” hint at a seductive force that was never present on previous albums.
The Kooks’ hiatus paid-off – if their intention was to find new fans. This is not an album for anybody who wanted a return to the old sound of The Kooks. It is rather an album for somebody who wants to hear something new and refreshing and doesn’t mind engaging in an album that is an utter beauty if you listen close enough. The only way to enjoy this album is with headphones, a quiet corner and couple of hours to spare.