By Ananda PaverJunk of the Heart just avoided living up to its title. The third and latest album from Brighton-born band, The Kooks, did not quite match my, admittedly high, expectations. The band seems to have lost a great deal of the charming, raw quality which they had back in 2006 with their first album, Inside In/Inside Out. Singles like “Eddie’s Gun” threw listeners into a dingy English pub and swept them up in the smell of stale beer and unrequited love. On the other hand, Junk of the Heart speaks to rather a different audience. With the exception of “How’d You Like That” which stays true to an older Kooks theme, the album is generally on a far more backtrack-based level. If one could call their genre ‘indie pop‘, this collection is distinctly more ‘pop’ than ‘indie’. Third Time Unlucky?
Speaking as a long time fan, I am a little disappointed with the new direction, as it comes across as vaguely insincere or superficial. The use of what sounds like an electronic beat, the one musical tactic that truly pushes my buttons, has commercialised their music in a way that eliminates the rough quality I loved so much. I hate the term ‘sell-out’, but the apparently inevitable movement toward a more mainstream sound is undeniable. The album, as a whole, is extremely eclectic and lacks a vital sense of coherency. The songs follow one another with little progression and the shift between tracks is noticeably jarring. Chart-wise, Junk of the Heart was not as successful as the band’s previous release, Konk (2008), which entered the UK Album Chart at number 1. The new album only made it to number 10 and has received largely unenthusiastic reviews. Take Heart
However, despite the borderline ‘Top 100’ feel to the album, it possesses a flavour that remains distinctly Kooks. The band’s signature strumming and plaintive British vocals remain intact, but, to be honest, these are the only elements that draw the warring tracks together. If anything, the album is saved by the delightfully 1960s quality to the sound, most likely a result of the simple melodies and the seemingly effortless vocal harmonies. I am acutely reminded of early Beatles and perhaps even traces of the Beach Boys. Of course, being a helpless ’60s fan, this won me over quite effectively. For me, the best track on the album is undoubtedly “Junk of the Heart (Happy) which epitomises the undemanding, joyful side to The Kooks’ music that the old fans know and love. Other notable mentions include “Rosie” and “Eskimo Kiss” which hold onto the heart-melting ingredients of the band’s original material with a splash of folk rock melody. “Time Above The Earth” was both the shortest and the most surprising song on the album as it departed rather severely from the band’s general aesthetic, relying simply on vocals and a gentle string quartet. The track itself was beautiful but its inclusion in the album was so random as to sideline its potential for poignancy. My feeling was that it would have been better suited as the last track rather than that uncomfortable ‘interlude’ spot in the middle of the playlist. The Verdict
In the end, the album definitely grew on me after two or three deliberate listens. I came to enjoy the unique, retro flavour and it could be that my commercial condemnation was premature. The fresh take on a successful brand is sure to earn The Kooks some new fans while, hopefully, avoiding the alienation of old faithfuls. The album has some good material and, although a defiant step away from acoustic, it is a satisfactory reinterpretation of the band’s much loved style. Ultimately, though, I would recommend you try before you buy.