The Kooks: Konk

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 Kooks


Label: Astralwerks
US Release Date: 2008-04-15
UK Release Date: 2008-04-14

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.


To be a migrant worker in America is to relearn the basic skills of living. Imagine doing that in your 60s and 70s, when you thought you'd be retired.

Nomadland: Surviving America in the Twenty-First Century

Publisher: W. W. Norton
Author: Jessica Bruder
Publication date: 2017-09

There's been much hand-wringing over the state of the American economy in recent years. After the 2008 financial crisis upended middle-class families, we now live with regular media reports of recovery and growth -- as well as rising inequality and decreased social mobility. We ponder what kind of future we're creating for our children, while generally failing to consider who has already fallen between the gaps.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Kehr was one of the best long-form essay writers people read for clear and sometimes brutally honest indictments of film.

It's perhaps too trite and rash to conclude that the age of good, cogent film criticism is over. They still exist out there, always at print publications such as The New Yorker and at major newspapers like The New York Times. An argument can be made that the late, legendary film critic Roger Ebert became a better writer when he departed from cinema and covered literature, book collecting, or even the simplest pleasures of life. If we look at the film criticism of James Agee from the '40s, or even the short but relevant stint of novelist and short story writer Graham Greene as a film critic, we come to understand that the greatest writing about film went beyond the spectrum of what they saw on the screen.
Keep reading... Show less

This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.