The Kooks – Junk of the Heart (Happy) (2011)

It probably wasn’t the best idea for The Kooks to start an ongoing feud with fellow English indie rock darlings, Arctic Monkeys. For those of you who don’t know, there was an incident in 2008 when Kooks’ front man, Luke Pritchard, kicked Monkeys’ Alex Turner in the face (no seriously) after Turner tried to unplug his guitar during a show. I know it was years ago and seems pretty stupid, but the feud is apparently ongoing and, since they are unlikely to come to fisticuffs (again), the bands will have to let their music do the talking to determine a winner. So, after Arctic Monkeys released the widely acclaimed Suck it and See earlier this year, the gauntlet was thrown down for the Kooks, so to speak. To be honest, I wasn’t even all that crazy about Suck it and See (I thought it was good but not GREAT), but I still have to award the win to Arctic Monkeys with this one.

I always like to give the album a listen before reading what anyone else thought about it. After my luke (get it?) warm first impression with this one, I was really interested to see what sense other reviews had made of it. Most people’s opinions were pretty in sync with mine with the lone exception of a rave review on the Female First Forum. Initially I was a little confused but then it all seemed to make sense; it’s an album designed specifically for women. There could be no other explanation. That made the next couple of listens through so much more comprehensible, no more enjoyable, granted, but definitely a clearer image. All twelve songs are written as an apostrophe to an unknown female recipient. This concept is really not so bad. I think virtually every talented musician and songwriter would admit that the loves in their life bring out the poet in them. In The Kooks’ case, though, it just feels like the guy is walking on air from the opening seconds all the way through its crescendo. Pritchard belts out “I wanna make you happy/ I wanna make you feel alive” in the opening title track, and believe me when I say he means it. He spends the next thirty-six minutes trying very very hard.

I’m not saying that every musician needs to exercise some sort of troubled demons through their work, but it does help if there is some degree of conflict. After all, isn’t music just a way of telling a story in some shape or form? The consistent thread of idealistic puppy love runs throughout the entire album as he repeatedly begs us to be pleased with it. On “How’d You Like That,” the question seems quite literally posed to his female listener and us the audience (more female listeners). The degree to which it resonates really varies from childishly earnest (revealing himself on “Taking Pictures of You”) to somewhat nauseating (the title says it all track, “Eskimo Kiss”). And I think it’s the unrelenting consistency that really made me get sick of it after a while. If Pritchard wants to write a song or two the women in his life about how damn happy he is, then go write ahead. But to do it for a dozen tracks with such limited variation? That’s just lazy.

In the end, the album really just says nothing. Not to sound ironic here, but it has absolutely no balls (by design I am sure). It tackles the concept of love, romance and relationships about as accurately as a Kate Hudson film. It never takes a chance. It never breaks from its formula. It repeatedly offers to the boring drawl that The Kooks pride themselves upon for some reason. You would never know that heartbreak even existed if you listened to his dizzied interpretation of love. Maybe it wouldn’t seem so bad if it wasn’t forced to pale in comparison to their arch nemesis’ outing.

Arctic Monkeys 1, The Kooks 0

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