Drawing from a grab bag of influences, Listen is an unabashedly, even aggressively retro attempt by The Kooks to move forward as a band. As the first album The Kooks have released in three years, it sounds as if the band went into the recording studio with something to prove and the result is something enjoyable but inorganic.
Listen is an undeniably fun album, but it rings hollow. The evolution of sound feels forced forward; the band wants to have their cake and eat it too, inserting snippets of new genres into their songs while maintaining the hook-heavy sound that made them a success story in the mid-2000s Britpop explosion. This is not an impossible endeavor, but in the case of Listen, it is not a particularly successful one. On future albums, The Kooks may find their new sound and settle into it, but for the time being, the funk, blues, and gospel influences they impose on their still familiar pop songs feel insubstantial. Listeners will enjoy the album, but remain unsatiated, as if they have eaten a meal of meringue.
The Kooks remain deeply indebted to indie Britpop, a debt they may never uproot even if they have the desire to do so. Combine their poppy sound with the added choirs, chopped beats, and other stabs at experimentation and the result is overall somewhat boring. The songs don’t go far enough in either direction. In Edith Wharton’s House of Mirth, the love interest describes the protagonist Lily Bart “as though a fine glaze of beauty and fastidiousness had been applied to vulgar clay.” Listen is highly polished, produced almost to the point of sterility, but the metaphorical glaze in this case is that of heavily applied influences, and “a coarse texture will not take a high finish.”
Listen: “Around Town” – The Kooks
The lyrics read as though they were written with a specific goal in mind, and come across as lacking in some key element of emotional truth. The lines “I need someone to love when the chips are down” and “You can choose the life of a bohemian or you can choose the material world” from the song “Around Town” are transparent attempts to seem worldly, and therefore don’t resonate.
Nevertheless, The Kooks aren’t out to revolutionize sound; they make fun listenable albums and Listen is no exception. There is something to be said about making consistently catchy music, even if it fades away in memory as soon as the track ends. In the context of previous albums, Listen can be seen as a valiant effort at departure that falls flat. It is unclear whether The Kooks will continue their efforts to evolve as a band or return to their unfettered established sound, but in any case, fans will have a fun beat to bob to.
Listen: “Down” – The Kooks
For fans of: The Wombats, Arctic Monkeys, The Fratellis
THE KOOKS ON TOUR
Sep 24 – Santa Ana, CA @ The Observatory
Sep 25 – Los Angeles, CA @ The Wiltern
Sep 26 – San Diego, CA @ The House of Blues
Sep 28 – Portland, OR @ Wonder Ballroom
Sep 29 – Seattle, WA @ The Showbox at The Market
Oct 02 – Denver, CO @ The Ogden Theatre
Oct 04 – Minneapolis, MN @ First Avenue
Oct 06 – Columbus, OH @ Newport Music Hall
Oct 07 – Philadelphia, PA @ Union Transfer
Oct 08 – Baltimore, MD @ Rams Head Live
Oct 09 – Huntington, NY @ The Paramount
Learn more about The Kooks online at thekooks.com