Exactly 20 years on from their Number 1 debut album K, Kula Shaker’s K2.0 offers a similar mix of psychedelic indie rock and Indian spirituality. The title also references the Himalayan mountain, while the cover features a multi-armed Hindu goddess, suggesting the Eastern inspiration remains potent, although there are other influences too in an eclectic work.
They may have arrived at the fag-end of Britpop in 1996, but Kula Shaker seemed like they were a throwback to the late ’60s, with Donovan/George Harrison-style hippie mysticism beefed up by the harder-edged rock of The Doors and early Deep Purple. It was easy to take the piss out of their earnest proselytising and retro sound but Kula Shaker were very good at what they did with frontman Crispian Mills an underrated songwriter.
After a couple of commercially successful albums and a number of hit singles the band split (not helped by the negative reaction to some ill-judged remarks by Mills). Two comeback albums at the end of the last decade failed to make much of an impact despite some strong material, but now Kula Shaker are back again, and sounding in good form.
The Indian influence on K2.0 is obvious in opening track and lead single Infinite Sun, a hypnotic mantra voicing a quest for spiritual enlightenment: “We are one in the infinite sun / Fly like an eagle.” Drone-like sitar playing mingles with heavy guitar and organ riffs, in the Tattva mould. After a spoken word intro suggesting “In your head you can go anywhere”, Oh Mary also combines Eastern musical rhythms and instruments with Western rock guitar muscularity, while Hari Bol (The Sweetest Sweet) is a short Hare Krishna-style chant.
In Holy Flame, Mills is again seeking the light of truth (“In my darkest days I see through the haze”), with a beat that chugs along rather like Blur’s Coffee And TV. The longest track Here Come My Demons is in three sections, as Mills immerses himself in gloomy, soul-searching introspection (“There’s a voice in your head says you’re better off dead / And you can’t find a reason to get out of bed”).
Death Of Democracy is a political satire accompanied by jangling guitars, Love B With U boasts sweetly soulful vocals and second single 33 Crows feels like a ’70s folk-rock song. High Noon, meanwhile, begins with a clock ticking the countdown to showdown (“Cos when the chips are down it’s what a man do”) in a mini-soundtrack to a Western movie, including Ennio morricone-style twangy guitars and whistling. Get Right Get Ready has a funky groove, while up-tempo rocker Mountain Lifter ends the album on a soaring note.
Despite its name K2.0 is neither a straightforward sequel nor a reboot; rather, a half-familiar formula performed with renewed vigour. Hardly cutting-edge in the first place, Kula Shaker’s brand of indie guitar rock is even less fashionable now. But even if this album does not make too many new converts, it should keep the faithful happy.