The Kooks step into Ray Davies' studio, name an album after it, and come away with a disc full of punchy riffs, chords, and provocative lyrics.
The blokes from Brighton are back with their second album, Konk, the follow up to 2006's Inside In/Inside Out. Their latest effort finds The Kooks picking up where they left off.
Scratch that. That's not entirely true.
The band is still scarily good in spite of being relative youngsters with band members' ages ranging between 21 and 23. Musically, they've maintained the same sound as on their debut, just a more finely tuned version of it. Then again, what would you expect from a bunch of former Brighton Institute of Modern Music students?
What has changed is that on this go around, the quartet loses a good chunk of the wacky, youthful delirium that marked their first album, replacing it with manic-depressive mood swings that rear their Sybil-like heads on nearly every track. The other ingredient missing on Konk is bassist Max Rafferty who quit the band in January of this year. Filling in, at least temporarily, is Dan Logan of yet another Brighton band, Cat the Dog.
Named for a David Bowie song, The Kooks share Bowie's penchant for an eclectic melding of various genres and moods to their distinctive musical pastiche. True to their name, The Kooks are quirky and hard to pin down, jumping all over the musical map. One minute they're serious, the next they're all jangly chords or short, sparking riffs that catch fire and burn through the material, thanks to the guitar work of Hugh Harris.
Though they tend to elicit comparisons to the Beatles, Oasis, and a few other noteworthy Brits, in the grand, high school yearbook of rock, it would seem that the class prophecy has appointed the Kooks inheritors of the mantle previously borne by the Kinks. All but directly given the blessing of Ray Davies, whose Konk Studios the namesake sophomore effort was recorded at, the Kooks turn evidence of this at several points throughout the disc. "Mr. Maker" could easily be a direct descendant of "A Well-Respected Man", albeit without as much of the duly-noted smarmy humor of the Kinks' classic. Even the disc's cover art could be a '70s hand-me-down with its grainy color photo of the group huddled in the doorway of the studio and their name emblazoned in simple, retro block print in the upper corner.
Although their sound is a mash-up of several well-blended ingredients, that sentiment of mixed tempo and emotion extends towards the Kooks' musical and lyrical composition. "See the Sun" is perked up by unexpected hand clapping that goes on as lead vocalist and lyricist Luke Pritchard declares, "For all the times I never, never turned away / And now she's here on someone else's arm", capturing the moment of simultaneous regret and epiphany that strikes in the midst of pleasant reverie.
In a similar vein, "Tick of Time" finds the Kooks summoning forth the Beatles' knack for harmonies and the Fab Four's sense of warping a song's music to fit the feel of its lyrical tone. Borrowing a pinch of the Police's reggae-rock, the track is propelled by the persistent pound of a kick drum and crisply staccato acoustic chords shot through with the glimmering trill of tambourine mimicking the mental beat of reflections on the root of lost love.
While lyrically, Pritchard's songs on Konk veer towards the early Cure side of the track -- treading, but not fully immersed in the waters of Robert Smith-sponsored, "Pictures of You"-variety manic depression. Instead, the Kooks offer a more easily accessible -- but no less honest -- version of a peek inside an emotional window, minus the flowery Byronic poetry.
What steers the Kooks away from turning into a bunch of downers on Konk is the lack of controlled emotion usually heard in mainstream pop and indie-rock. Even in their darkest hour, bemoaning "What did I do / In a past life / To deserve this", there's something that sparkles and fizzes in the band's musical delivery that zings with cheery optimism and an aura of good cheer.
Preventing the Kooks from falling into a downward spiral is the healthy dose of ego, self-esteem, and self-awareness that punctuates Konk and keeps things real. "Do You Wanna" reeks of sexy swagger, swinging from posing the question "Do you wanna / do you wanna make love to me?" to turning the tables into an imperative insistence that "I know you wanna / I know you wanna make love to me", all in the span of a single chorus. By the same token, the disc's lead single, "Always Where I Need to Be", flits between the past, present, and future of a love affair, eventually coming to the conclusion that "I'm a man on the scene / I'm a man / And I can be so obscene", finding a loud and proud voice that banishes the self-doubt which usually accompanies relationship-related confusion.
In an era of canned angst with all the sentiment of a Hallmark card, the Kooks' parlay their mixed feelings on a myriad of subjects with a strong sense of sincerity, finding the sunny side to melancholy and frustration or a splinter of wistfulness lodged somewhere within a good time.