The Kooks have moved a long way from their late-Britpop origins since forming in Brighton 10 years ago. After the success of their first two retro albums, they appeared to have run this well dry with the disappointingly bland Junk Of The Heart in 2011. However, their new album Listen signals a change in direction from indie rock towards a more R&B, dance-oriented sound that may be rather lightweight yet has a bright, infectious energy. New drummer Alexis Nunez adds a percussive edge, but much credit must go to hip-hop co-producer Inflo for this fresh lease of life.
In addition, the lyrics seem to be more personal than before, with front man and main songwriter Luke Pritchard reflecting on matters close to his heart, even if his lightly melodic voice struggles to reach an authentically soulful expression. On the uplifting opening track Around Town he is helped out by a swelling gospel choir in his plea for emotional security, “I need someone to love / When the chips are down”, accompanied by funky guitar, driving bass and kicking drums.
Forgive And Forget starts on intimate solo vocals and acoustic guitar before opening out into a big rousing chorus, as Pritchard sings candidly, “You say you need someone to love you / But it ain’t me”. In contrast to this break-up song, Westside is about Luke’s best friends getting married –“Now we can settle down / And start a family” – with its easy-going dance-floor groove and party people yelping in the background. See Me Now is essentially a sentimental, piano-led ballad aimed at Luke’s father, who died when he was very young: “If you could see me now … Would you be proud?”
Autobiography is exchanged for social comment in the more muscular, rockier It Was London, a song focusing on the 2011 London riots – “On the television the police they blamed the youth for disruption … Nothing was said about the shooting, just the looting” – which voices disbelief not so much about the anarchy on the streets as the overlooked police violence. A more sexual frustration is expressed in Bad Habit, with its ‘Oh-oh-oha” chanting and wailing sax.
The catchy lead single Down opens with a soulful cry, and features punchy percussion, sharp hooks, and a call and response bridge, as the singer defiantly states, “You can’t break a man who’s already down”. As its title suggests, Dreams is a hazy, mellow tracked backed by synths, while the joyous Are We Electric goes wholeheartedly into electro pop territory with falsetto vocals. Sunrise has hand-clapping and Latin club beats, and Sweet Emotion describing the sugar rush of falling in love – “She’s always on my mind” – closes the album on a rhapsodic note.