In the often rather snobbish world of indie music, there’s always been a degree of suspicion about The Kooks. Whether it be legitimate concerns (they can be a bit bland and poppy, they’re about as independent as Kaiser Chiefs) or irrelevancies (their involvement in the BRIT school, or the fact that lead Kook Luke Pritchard used to go out with Katie Melua), the accusations of ‘manufactured pop’ never seem to be far away.
Most of these charges are pretty unfair. The band’s debut album Inside In/Inside Out, while not pushing any new boundaries, was a genuinely enjoyable album, full of upbeat and catchy tracks. Hell, they even managed to make a song about erectile disfunction sound like the breeziest thing on earth, which must take some doing. Besides, Johnny Borrell hates them (in possibly the most explicit case of the pot calling the kettle black, the Razorlight man once accused them of betraying their indie roots by being too commercial), so they can’t be all bad.
However, it’s true to say that Konk is a pretty uninspiring second album. The unimaginative name doesn’t bode well – simply the title of Ray Davies‘ studio where the album was recorded – but it’s when you listen to the music that your heart starts to sink. It’s basically a retread of the debut album, with absolutely no sign of progression or evolution on show.
Of course, this won’t bother the many Kooks fans out there. Each track here could easily be lifted and placed quite happily on either Radio 1 or Radio 2′s daytime playlist and sit quite snugly. Like its predecessor, it’ll probably produce at least 4 or 5 hit singles, and you’ll no doubt be driven mad by the many hummable choruses emanating from clothes shops around Britain over the summer.
Yet, there’s something soul-destroyingly depressing about the formulaic nature of most of the songs here. Always Where I Need To Be has a introduction so similar to See The World that you have to stop to check you’ve not put the wrong CD on by mistake. Stormy Weather is a near replica of You Don’t Love Me, while Gap even tries to replicate that catchy opening guitar riff of Naive, but with much less success. While it’s true that if it ain’t broke there’s no need to fix it, it would be nice to hear some signs of progression.
Pritchard’s lyrics don’t help either. Do You Wanna sees the fresh-faced lead singer rather laughably leer “Do you wanna, do you wanna make love to me?” while Always Where I Need To Be simply gives up on its chorus, reducing it to a series of ‘doo-doo-doo’s – which is admittedly better than platitudes such as “I have to be a hummingbird, whisper words in her ear” or Gap’s cries of “I love you, I miss you”.
However, the album isn’t without its charms. Pritchard’s voice has a world-weary quality that will only get better and better with age, while guitarist Hugh Harris lays down plenty of muscular guitar riffs throughout the album which do a much needed job of beefing up tracks such as the swampy blues touch he brings to Sway or the Kinks-alike riffs on Mr Maker. Also, when they take things down a notch or two, they can be genuinely impressive – such as the touching ballad One Last Time, a poignant account of a deteriorating childhood romance which is by far the best thing on here, only marred by a horrific couplet of “a, b, c, d, e, f and g / that reminds me of when we were three”.
It’s telling that on the occasions where the band forget about trying to replicate their debut – such as on the acoustic skiffle stomp of Tick Of Time – they sound relaxed and enthused, qualities that sadly aren’t present through the rest of Konk, especially on tracks like the plodding Shine On. It will no doubt be the soundtrack of the summer for many people, but the lack of originality, warmth and soul may well leave some feeling rather underwhelmed.