Singer/guitarist Luke Pritchard, original drummer Paul Garred and lead guitarist Hugh Harris were all alumni at the BRIT school in Croydon, a vocational establishment rather than a fame academy but a hotbed for aspirant wannabe entertainment stars nonetheless. Max Rafferty joined in 2002 as the original bassist. The band name was borrowed from the David Bowie song on Hunky Dory and a shared affection for The Rolling Stones, The Police and Bob Dylan shaped their early songwriting efforts.
The die was cast when they began gigging in Brighton, on the South Coast. They had a look, a developing sound and a freshness and enthusiasm that turned heads and melted even the most hard-hearted.
Virgin agreed they shouldn’t rush their debut and Inside In/Inside Out was all the better for the intervening road work that shaped the songs, and they had plenty of those. Following a support tour as guests of The Thrills our Kooky kids recorded at Konk Studios, owned by The Kinks: where else? Given the album’s wealth of single hits this was the starting gift that just kept on giving: “Eddie’s Gun”, “Sofa Song”, “You Don’t Love Me", “Naïve”, “She Moves in Her Own Way” and “Ooh La” tumbled off the album and onto the airwaves with the attendant crackle of millions of digital downloads. Produced by Tony Hoffer (Supergrass, Grandaddy, Beck, Turin Brakes, Air etc.) the sweetly retro atmosphere of the whole appealed to music fans across the board from the Skins generation to their parents. The opening track “Seaside” is a lovely thing and the rest just rolls out with perfect symmetry. To hear the songs in raw form try the Acoustic edition, recorded live at Abbey Road Studios and in Osaka, Japan. If you haven’t heard any of the above, start discovering.
Konk was another delicious breeze that soared to the top of the charts in late April 2008 and made #10 on the US Alternative Albums (Billboard) chart. Powered by “Always Where I Need to Be”, “Sway” and “Shine On”Konk was/is a must-hear album from that summer. A second disc called RAK also captures the teenage poignancy these Kooks specialise in and gives further indication of their songwriting prowess and prolific output. Meanwhile Pritchard’s growing confidence as a vocalist is at the core of a disc where guitarist Harris takes his chance to step forward and impress. Rafferty would leave the band during recording and so enter new bass player Peter Denton.
We had to wait until 2011 for Junk of the Heart, an album that divided opinion but sounds absolutely fine to us. True, they had grown up a lot by now but then so had their audience and the change of pace was inevitable even though the Kooks style – short, sharp and to the point – is maintained. The title track, sub-titled “Happy” and the deeply down “Is It Me” are highlights but this is also worth discovery for “Rosie” and “Eskimo Kiss”, also the iTunes bonus track “The Saboteur (The Magic Shop, NYC)”, their lengthiest performance to that date.
Paul Garred was replaced by new drummer Alexis Nunez in 2012 and the reshaped quartet moved their operation to Los Angeles for production purposes and also worked in London with hip hop man Inflo who brings loops and a more percussive feel to the table as well some funky, jazz and gospel grooves. Compared favourably to early solo Paul McCartney and the hippy cult hero Shuggie Otis the songs on Listen are stuffed with hooks and tinged with personal sadness on occasion – “See Me Now” being the most obvious example of Pritchard’s burgeoning writing. Elsewhere social commentary, time and place (“Around Town”, “Westside”, “It Was London”) and a deal more experimentation make this a splendid fourth disc. The Deluxe edition adds four extra songs and the music video to “Down”, a slab of pop soul that brings them up to date without quite kissing off their Noughties origins or ear for a killer melody.
If you want to dig any deeper then you’ll discover hidden elements of turbulence, the Kooks trip hasn’t been one long joyride by any means; a certain resilience and a usually gentle touch remain redeeming qualities in their makeup. Good to have them around. For further delectation try and catch them live this winter and watch them shine on.
Words: Max Bell
The Kooks' debut album, Inside In/Inside Out, was a sleeper success story, going on to sell a whopping two million copies. It was a fabulous set, but their follow-up, Konk, wipes the floor with it. The title takes its name from Ray Davies' studio, where the quartet recorded most of the set. This direct connection to Britain's past obviously inspired the band to new heights, because The Kooks and this album are positively electrifying. Across a dozen songs (plus a hidden track), the quartet explores pop and rock in all their glory, with every number set apart from its neighbor in sound and feel. The Kooks wanted each song to be "its own little world," and they've succeeded brilliantly. Singer and rhythm guitarist Luke Pritchard is on fire throughout, a bundle of barely contained emotional energy. Vocally he's an amorphous mass of influences -- Phil Lynott, Steve Marriott, Brett Anderson, David Bowie, even Van Morrison among them -- but bar the occasional inflection, he rarely channels any of them directly, capturing instead their spirit and soul. Musically, his guitar adds a decided bounce to everything he plays, even on the most downbeat numbers. His performances are magnificent, but even so, Konk belongs to lead guitarist Hugh Harris, who swaggers like an epic hero right across this set. He struts out like Achilles onto the plains of Troy on the infectious '60s pop/rocking album-opener, "See the Sun." His leads are absolutely incendiary on "Do You Wanna" while adding subtle shades of color to the crash-and-bash "Always Where I Need to Be," and they're positively joyous on the bright, bouncy Beatlesque "Mr. Maker" and utterly irrepressible on the pop/rock perfection of "Down to the Market." Harris' show-stopper, though, is "Shine On," a midtempo '60s-tinged number that pushes the band into new territory, and Pritchard to new heights as well. The guitarist's work on the power ballad "Sway" is equally superb, and showcases his most emotive work. The members of the band's rhythm section are no slackers either -- drummer Paul Garred brings to mind a more disciplined Keith Moon, while bassist Max Rafferty is The Kooks' linchpin with his wonderfully understated work. The album sounds phenomenal, with producer Tony Hoffer giving the entire set a warm glow that heightens the band's retro elements. That glow turns luminous on "One Last Time," an acoustic-styled ballad with all the majesty of Green Day's "Good Riddance (Time of Your Life)," and burns just as brightly on the sway-along "Stormy Weather." Everything about this album shouts masterpiece, a set that will thrill listeners for years, nay decades, to come.
Words: Jo-Ann Greene
The Kooks arrived fully formed in 2006, for their debut sounds like the work of a band well into its career: the confidence with which the foursome from Brighton play and the abandon with which Luke Pritchard sings; the witty songcraft and deft arrangements; the drama and fervor they unleash from the very first notes and carry through to the end. They display maturity but also play with the fervor of kids and project a wide-eyed charm that is very endearing. On most of Inside In/Inside Out, the band sounds like a more energetic Thrills or a looser Sam Roberts Band, maybe even a less severe Arctic Monkeys at times. Along with these modern kinships and influences, the band is heavily indebted to classic rock. Traces of Thin Lizzy's romantic lyricism pop up on tracks like "Eddie's Gun," and so does a bit of post-punk spikiness on "You Don't Love Me," some Dexys singalong booziness on "She Moves in Her Own Way," and a hint of jam-band funk on "Match Box." Quite varied influences, and in the end the band sounds like The Kooks and no one else. A nice and unique sound doesn't mean much without some songs to fill it out, and The Kooks deliver plenty of memorable tunes. "Eddie's Gun," "See the World," the unfortunately named "Jackie Big Tits," and "Ooh La" are very strong and, taken together, equal the output of just about any pop/rock band around in 2006. The only song that falls flat is the over-long reggae-rocker "Time Awaits." It's the only track that breaks the four-minute mark, and it shows that The Kooks' strength isn't stretching out and jamming; their chops are best suited for short, sharp blasts of invigorating pop/rock. When they stick to that, The Kooks are an exciting, very promising band, and Inside In/Inside Out is an excellent debut.
Words: Tim Sendra
Having watched the likes of Kaiser Chiefs and Hard-Fi crash and burn with their early 2000s changes in direction, fellow mid-noughties indie band the Kooks, perhaps unsurprisingly, only tentatively step outside their usual comfort zone on third effort Junk of the Heart. "Time Above the Earth" smothers Luke Pritchard's distinctive, slurring tones in layers of lush strings to produce the band's first fully orchestral offering, "Taking Pictures of You" is a slightly experimental slice of ambient pop, packed with languid grooves, buzzing synths, and reverb-drenched reverse guitar effects, while "Runaway" has shades of the Police with its cod-reggae beats, subtle synths, and new wave melodies. But with regular producer Tony Hoffer (Beck, Air) still on board, the majority of Junk's 12 tracks feature the same kind of inoffensive, acoustic, Brit-pop songs about girls that saw debut Inside In, Inside Out and follow-up Konk top the U.K. charts. The jangly, Dodgy-esque, summery opening title track, the breezy Kinks-esque harmonies of "Eskimo Kiss," and the rousing, singalong chorus of "How'd You Like That" seem destined to sit at the top of commercial radio playlists for months on end, but there's very little to get excited about with the cliched soft rock break-up song "Killing Me," the derivative honky tonk of "Mr. Nice Guy," and the plodding "F*** the World Off," whose lazy rhythms and gentle folk riffs are more "let's sit down and have a cup of tea" than the expletive defiance in its title. It's hard to see where the Kooks fit in among a musical landscape that has altered dramatically during their three-year hiatus, and while their play-it-safe approach may mean they're less likely to suffer the rapid sales decline of their contemporaries, they are now in danger of becoming indie pop's answer to Westlife.
Words: Jon O'Brien
Four albums into their career and it became clear to the Kooks it was time to shake things up. Their third record, 2011's Junk of the Heart, came dangerously close to the middle of the road -- it was excessively polished and reliant on measured pop tunes -- and didn't make anybody's pulse race, so the group decided to take a different tactic on 2014's Listen. Hooking up with Inflo, a British hip-hop producer who makes his big-time debut here, the Kooks definitively take a step toward a fresher, modern music, one that's informed by dance music and rap, not to mention a retro-new wave fetish that's simultaneously old and new. Classicists that they are, the Kooks don't necessarily sound futuristic as they expand their horizons; when they dabble in disco on "Forgive & Forget" they recall not only the future shock of 1980 but also Franz Ferdinand, the single "Down" dilutes and angelicizes Kid Rock's "Batwatdibaba," while "Westside" and "Are We Electric" get slathered in synths straight out of 1982. These rhythmic tracks, which are a far cry from the caution of Junk of the Heart, are paired with limber guitar pop ("It Was London," "Bad Habit") that is firmly within the quartet's wheelhouse. The more familiar sounds are paired with the sturdiest songwriting but what gathers attention here are the tracks furthest afield from the Kooks' traditional pop. Especially after the staid Junk, the deliberate liveliness of Listen is indeed welcome, and sometimes, the results come close to infectious.
Words: Stephen Thomas Erlewine