It’s hard to imagine how anyone could forget that rock ‘n’ roll is supposed to be fun. But, much to this writer’s chagrin, it would indeed appear that rock bands the world over have suffered collective amnesia. It wasn’t too long ago that bands like Supergrass and Super Furry Animals flaunted reckless abandon with near religious conviction, possessing a seemingly unshakable belief in the power of deliriously frivolous rock ‘n’ roll. Yet as so many have reminded us in the interim, all-night bingeing is inevitably followed by the never-fun morning after. And so unbridled hedonism has given way to more pensive, mature pleasures — even Franz Ferdinand at their insouciant best seem restrained by the exacting precision of their Gang of Four-inspired dance-punk. Now, “fun” is merely a word that appears on press sheets for artists like The Darkness and Andrew WK, who presumably need some defense against critics who would eviscerate their horrid records.
After one listen to the debut album from Brighton’s The Kooks, it becomes sadly apparent just how much fun the non-lobotomized portion of the population has been missing the last several years. Inside In/Inside Out is a freakish, insanely illogical smorgasboard of ideas that easily earns the band its name; it’s as entertaining as it is outlandish. No idea is judged too absurd for inclusion: ska intertwines with reggae, blistering guitar solos melt into white-hot funk. The band would be easy to mock if they weren’t so busy laughing at themselves. And yet, there’s an undeniable brilliance on display throughout Inside In/Inside Out that leaves you agog even as you shake your head at the utter ridiculousness of their conviction to utter ridiculousness.
Not ones to be bashful or to hold back, The Kooks open with a whiplash-inducing clutch of certain singles. “See the World” crests on waves of fizzy guitar pop — Luke Pritchard’s wavering yelp recalling Stephen Bays had he been raised in the British Isles. The band follows with “Sofa Song”, perhaps a British interpretation of Green Day’s “Longview”, yet its buoyant chorus suggesting more self-satisfied boredom than the kind born of sexual frustration. The Kooks then careen into the euphoric Brit-pop confection, “Eddie’s Gun”, which surely must’ve been a demo swiped from under Gaz Coombes’ bed circa 1994.
Just short of the halfway mark, the mod-ish clatter of “You Don’t Love Me” provides the album’s peak, with Pritchard giving a strangely detached account unrequited love. The Kooks, for all their rambunctious spirit, slow the breakneck pace ever-so-slightly as the album moves into its second half, loosening the arrangements and giving the guitars space to breathe. On “Match Box”, The Kooks counter typically punchy choruses with sprawling, reggae-tinged verses. Bolder is “Naïve”, which rides a deep funk guitar line while Pritchard does his best Adam Levine impression. As unappetizing as that might sound, it’s a testament to the band’s skill that they are able to touch on such seemingly incongruous influences without it sounding like a blatant reach. Some of the credit certainly goes to veteran producer Tony Hoffer (Beck, Air), whose clear-eyed production ensures that The Kooks’ songs are rarely undone by their wildest impulses.
Unfortunately, the band’s youthful exuberance does occasionally work to its detriment, especially on the half-formed tracks that come toward the album’s conclusion. “Jackie Big Tits,” a sublime, Spector-ish tune, is marred by the inclusion of the song title in the chorus, a grade-school gag that with any luck the band already regrets. “Time Awaits” may not feature any such embarrassing lyrical misfires but the decidedly messy guitar romp (with not one but two fake endings) might also have benefited from a certain maturity that is, at this juncture, in short supply for The Kooks. Still, it’s hard to wish for added maturity when the energy and confidence is this infectious. On Inside In/Inside Out, The Kooks may not leave you much to remember them by, but what kind of fun would that be?