“So, let me fuck the world off just for you,” The Kooks front man Luke Pritchard coos on the unabashedly poppy Fuck The World Off. It’s a phrase that sounds completely out of place coming from the same guy who did Ooh La a few years back, as if his façade of brashness has finally reached its ridiculous breaking point. Follow this with the undeniably sweet and charming Time Above The Earth, a track that relies quite rightly on a string quartet and the quiet lonesomeness of Pritchard’s voice and you’ve got to the central problem of The Kooks’ third album, Junk Of The Heart.
To say Junk Of The Heart is a departure for The Kooks would be an understatement. The only recognisable quality left over from Inside In/Inside Out and Konk is Pritchard’s voice, and even that is clouded over by a layer of sheen and polish that was thankfully missing from their scrappy, loose earlier work. Musically and aesthetically, Junk Of The Heart is not too far off from the similarly re-invented latest album from Noah And The Whale, Last Night On Earth. This trick worked in a sort of slippery way for Charlie Fink and company, but they pulled it off.
Here, though, we’ve got The Kooks – a group who operated best in the same lazy, snotty-but-loveable arena as The Arctic Monkeys, if on the quieter, bedroom poppier end of the spectrum – and the transition has not served them so well. Certainly, Junk Of The Heart has got its moments, but for the most part, it risks alienating the doe-eyed teenaged girls and budding young bedroom bands that bought in from the beginning. Here, Pritchard and company aim for an even more mainstream success than Konk, and they will likely succeed in selling a boatload of albums. But they’ve lost something in the process.
Album opener Junk Of The Heart (Happy) is a song made for the radio; it starts off well enough, sure, but by the time the chorus comes around, only the most cynical listener could resist a smile. Taking Pictures Of You operates in the same lazy, acoustic mode that made Inside In/Inside Out’s Seaside so appealing, but it’s all overcast by a barrage of unnecessary flourishes (here a winsome reverb-heavy reversed guitar moan, there a groaning organ or an ill-placed synth run). Lead single Is It Me alternates synth-driven verses and big guitar choruses over neo-disco drum and bass, and it’s composed of the all the quick-reference, paint-by-numbers stuff that makes for good stadium shows (alongside wacky lyrics like, “Bring me a pig’s heart and a glass of wine.”). Not bad, but quickly forgettable.
Mr Nice Guy ends the album with a half-hearted lyric packaged as a rallying cry: “No more Mr Nice Guy.” Certainly, Pritchard and his Kooks have had their share of post-adolescent ego-driven escapades, and for the most part, they’ve made for fine music. Where Junk Of The Heart could have been a transitional record, it comes off feeling like a stopgap before the band’s eventual transition into proper adulthood. Here’s hoping that album four from The Kooks manages to recapture some of their scruffy, snotty greatness and stave off that transition a bit longer.