The Kooks: Someone to Love, Someone to Listen


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Listening to an album in its entirety has become a sort of “chore” as of late: between what passes off as A-list material and what is simply re-hashed sheep fodder, mainstream music seems to have lost its soul.  The popularized music that characterizes most FM broadcasts, in this critic’s opinion, tends to become redundant fast: it leaves me questioning why the bass always has to build/drop at the same portion, why choruses sound so cliché, and why artists essentially copy/paste another’s work.  When did blatant plagiarism become the norm? It’s understandable that tunes need to be crafted in a way that immediately captures an audience’s attention (and keeps it for that matter); however, it is inexcusable for an artist to forsake their own creative processes: they should strive to challenge themselves time to time.  The Kooks on the other hand succeed in breaking out of their comfort zone: they challenge their established Brit-Pop formula and once again place themselves in an area that makes them feel like amateurs.  The result is a glimpse into musicianship genius that not only has its moments of aesthetic beauty, but also captivates listener’s raw, innate desires to let loose.

The Kook’s have come a long way since the departure of bassist Max Rafferty and drummer Paul Garred.  While Indie Brit-Pop remains at the forefront of the Kooks’ sound, their fourth studio album, Listen, offers a smorgasbord of lush melodic textures, polyrhythmic sections doused in counterpoint, and syncopated hand claps and percussion.  In short, this is the Kooks on another, more advanced level.  The first track, “Around Town”, erupts in a groove that emulates early beat groups (i.e. the Beatles), yet there is a groove element to it that incorporates the rhythms of Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones.  It’s characterized by a backing gospel choir, of which juxtaposes a charismatic, old-time soul quality with Frontman Luke Pritchard’s nasal, shouting vocals on the forefront.  Track number 2, “Forgive & Break”, erupts in an upbeat orgy of syncopated rhythmic groove and percussion.  Each element of musical timbre (e.g. synthesizers, extended piano chords, and even the wooden block) empathize the dance element that clearly pays homage to early funk music of the 1960s.  Track 3, “Westside”, in response brings the tempo down a notch and embraces the electronic timbres of the present day.  There is an emphasis on legato synth and less guitar (think of Phoenix’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix), that establishes a smooth, danceable contour, albeit is relaxing enough to lounge to.  This electronic quality is again addressed in the latter song, “Are We Electric” (note the obvious nod to the track’s composition).  Instead of following the more elaborate groove rhythms that characterize the beginning of the album, the Kooks opt to go for a straightforward pop sound carried by sustained synth, which surprisingly manages to retain a degree of polyrhythmic devices and melodic lines.  These qualities not only make the album fun to “Listen” to; they also demonstrate that the Kook’s know how to attract and keep a “Listener’s” attention.

The subsequent effect is an undeniable temptation to embrace the raw, animalistic side that lay dormant in each of us.  The track, “Bad Habit”, perfectly encapsulates this theme of risky, reckless behavior that people exhibit when temptation prevails.  The chorus “you say you want it, but you can’t get it in.  You got yourself a bad habit”, on the surface presumptuously refers to a woman’s lack of self-respect as she engages in promiscuous behavior.  Lyrically speaking, Pritchard makes no effort to hide the blatantly obvious.  There is simplicity in Pritchard’s vocabulary that is not meant to be overanalyzed; however, careful “Listeners” begin to pick up on something more meaningful: an underlying contextual theme guiding the album’s songs.  There are clear references to human sentiment and heart, not just how it can be lively, but how it can be void.  The album cover itself details a picture of an actual human heart, presumptuously blue in color due to a lack of oxygen: a heart deprived of life in short.   It’s an expression of voice, a call to attention: a concept that is perfectly expressed in the track “See Me Now”, a eulogy written for the late Bob Pritchard, Luke Pritchard’s father.  “Listeners” are enticed to focus on the warm and soothing tonalities of jazz-variant piano chords, yet it becomes clear that it is a glimpse into the thoughts and longings of Luke Pritchard himself: we empathize with his desire to make his dad “proud”, and we sympathize with his tragic inability to do so.

Great artists tend to deliver material that satisfies a variety of audiences.  That being said, Listen is titled “Listen” for a reason.  The album is far from simply music: it is an expression of life’s many joys as well as its many tragedies.  The Kooks offer more than enough variety in their latest installment while retaining the Brit-pop identity that has placed them in the spotlight.

Listen earns a deserved 4 out of 5.

Kanye Vest is a DJ for KSSU, the only student-run radio station at California State University – Sacramento.

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