The Kooks – Let’s Go Sunshine

Still riding high after all these years (it’s been 12 years since their debut album Inside In/Inside Out), another high-profile festival slot at Reading and Leeds proves that The Kooks remain one of this country’s most beloved indie bands. With a huge array of anthems and bangers at their disposal, they can always be relied upon to fire up any field or arena full of party people.

Never exactly prolific, Let’s Go Sunshine is only their fifth studio album in that time, but it faces a familiar challenge for bands of this ilk: stick with the tried and trusted, or twist into something new? Unfortunately, this time round The Kooks have largely stuck and find themselves exactly that.

Through much of the first half, there are faint traces left behind of what could have been a completely different, and more interesting, record. ‘Kids’ harbours ambitions of being an angst-driven rock song, while ‘All The Time’ stomps along in a swampy beat. However, the finished product gives the impression of a band retreating into the comfortable and familiar at the last moment, with the production style playing it far too safe. The results are largely bland indie filler, all highly polished and performed in a steady fashion.

The album may deal with hefty themes, those of lost innocence, the ends of relationships, and moving on in life but, lyrically, there are some absolute clangers. “I got a lover and she’s kind of kind” is a notable stand-out on ‘Believe’, while the salacious tale of: “A big fine mama at home” on ‘Chicken Bone’ feels at least a decade out of place in all of its ‘lads’ talk. At 15-tracks long, there was plainly an opportunity for some judicious pruning of tracks like these into something leaner and sharper.

Yet, there are moments on the second half when Luke Pritchard and the gang seem to trust their instincts more, with better results. ‘Tesco Disco’ stretches their sound in whole new ways, the reverb-heavy vocals leaving you wishing they’d stayed the path more often. ‘Honey Bee’ is an adaption of a song by Pritchard’s father, and is pleasingly left loose in a proto-rhythm and blues fashion, while ‘Initials For Gainsbourg’ again shows a more experimental writing style. However, ultimately, they rest too heavily on their traditional sound instead of reaching for something bigger and bolder, and it all results in indie-by-numbers.

Let’s Go Sunshine is an album of bold ideas not carried through, perhaps a result of the long drawn-out writing and recording process. With the next round of arena tours surely already lined up, there just isn’t enough contained within for many to be clamouring for the band to “play one of the new ones”. Yet, equally, there is probably (just) enough on the second half to keep the bandwagon rolling along until the next time round. The hope is that this time, they leave the studio polish on the shelf.

Jamie MacMillan

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