The Kooks have always been an underdog band in some sense of the word. This isn’t to say they haven’t been wildly successful in the past, but the band has a certain relatability that will never go away, despite any praise or acclaim they might achieve. At the end of the day, their biggest appeal as a group is the grit and British swagger of the music they create, not glitz and glamour. On their new album, Let’s Go Sunshine, The Kooks have strayed slightly from their indie rock roots, but still manage to maintain a kernel of the accessible charisma that put them on the map in the first place.
Formed in 2004 in Brighton, England, The Kooks have largely stuck to a mix of Britpop, indie rock and Rolling Stones-esque blues. Their first album, Inside In/Inside Out, went quadruple platinum in the UK, thanks in part to critical acclaim but also a strong street fanbase among lovers of the early-2000s post-punk revival. Inside and their subsequent albums Konk and Junk of the Heart continued this tradition of bouncy rock pop, a mix of British Invasion stylings and a modern edge with digital production. With 2014’s Listen, the group moved into a decidedly bigger sound, transitioning from tight indie rock to full-on blues pop. A strength for the band has always been how hard it is to place them in time, and the resilience that can bring. Listening to everything before this latest release, it could be from 1960 or yesterday and you would never know.
With Let’s Go Sunshine, this timelessness is a bit different. The record is a new frontier for the band, in a way, their attempt to create a new voice with stronger pop influences and more integrated production. Longtime listeners of The Kooks could take this one of two ways — the band’s shift towards a larger pop sound in this year’s album could either warrant frustration from fans or admiration of their willingness to change with time. Listen, the group’s last album, was the beginning of this change, and balanced their classic rock styling with a less stripped-down production very well. On Let’s Go Sunshine, the pop style The Kooks seem to be trying to accomplish kills their down-to-earth power on some songs, while still maintaining it on others.
For one, the album is a large body of work, boasting 14 songs and an intro track to boot. Due to this, not every song has the indie hit potential of their earlier work, and lends itself to a slightly disorganized feel if you listen to the record all the way through. However, the variety throughout Let’s Go Sunshine is a breath of fresh air for the group, and it is interesting for old fans to see how The Kooks sound in a different light. For those who still seek the band’s original British Invasion sound, “Kids,” a defiant youth anthem, “Weight of the World,” a mellow guitar-based reflection and “No Pressure,” a shouty hook-laden banger, are the way to go. Though they are definitely different from the band’s previous work, “Four Leaf Clover” and “Tesco Disco” are also highlights off the record, both atmospheric and joyfully catchy hits.
“Honey Bee” has its own space on Let’s Go Sunshine, due in part to the song’s old-school appeal but also the story behind it. According to lead singer Luke Pritchard, the song was written by his late father, a musician who died when Pritchard was very young. Through digital magic, the band was able to include his father’s voice on the track from an original tape recording to create a very special collaboration between the two. This is a great explanation of what the album’s true core is: a connection of The Kooks’ old sound with a move towards the future. From 20-something rockers to fathers and husbands, the years since their debut have affected The Kooks’s members, so why wouldn’t they affect their sound, too? The verdict may be out on whether these changes work for their benefit or not, but when it comes down to it, their underdog soul is still there.