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Music Review: The Kooks – Konk

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They recorded their album in the Kinks’ studio and are named after a David Bowie song – which is all very hunky dory. Yet if you’ve fallen into the easy diversion of playing connect-the-pop/rock-dots with the Kooks’ absolutely exhilarating and more full-fledged follow-up to 2006’s Inside In/Inside Out, you’re over-thinking things. Sure there’s some Strokes here, a bit of XTC there, with traces of Green Day, Television, the Buzzcocks, the Housemartins, the Police – along with Ray Davies’ or Sting’s vocal inflections. But just scale the impressive, infectious heights and don’t look back. The Kooks’ hooks will grab you before gravity takes hold.

Besides, if you can hail a musical cloud nine from on high, it’s an awfully fine getaway for one to “see the sun rising," even if all your love interest "sees is it fall fall fall.” Such is one of the he lies-she lies observations laced throughout the Brighton, England group’s opening track on Konk, “See the Sun,” which gives us a tantalizing appetizer of the Kooks’ sound as dominated by expressive lead singer, songwriter, and rhythm guitarist Luke Pritchard, and the by turns taut and loosey-goosey lead guitar of Hugh Harris (Max Rafferty on bass, and Paul Garred on drums round out the group). Add in the joyous I-Get-Around handclaps that come in halfway through “Sea” and you have yourself rental property on clouds 10, 11, and 12, too.

It’ll be SRO there before the silver-lined cumuli make their move ‘60s-style with the highly melodic “Mr. Maker,” the title character of which, in Kinks-size manner and manor, has “got it made / A beautiful wife and a baby on the way / And his bills are already paid…” Or at least that’s how it starts out…

You may think that the elevated and rarefied air amongst the clouds and house on the hill is “Always Where I Need To Be,” and that the assertively ecstatic and rougher-edged song by that certain title of certainty would seem to reiterate that desire by pounding you into submission – if it had to, in a good way, of course. Similarly, if you’re “getting so tired of people always crossing your wires,” and find that “life's just far too short for miscommunication,” you may be getting it into your head having played that one Kooks' song, the frenetic Tom Verlaine-tinged track, “Down to the Market,” giddy with a giddyap break and Bryan Ferry yelp.

Kicking up the instrumental expertise a couple notches, the powerhouse standout “Sway” pushes Harris’ alternately angular and sinuous guitar sonics front and center, seemingly sparking in turn Pritchard’s emotion-filled vocals as they relay some presumably personal lyrics, some words of support that can nonetheless be construed most universally: “Be whoever you have to be, I won't judge you / Sing whatever you have to sing to get it out and not become a recluse….” “Sway” is a harrowing and masterful track.

At the other end of the spectrum, and closing out Konk, are a couple of acoustic numbers, the affecting “One Last Time,” and the tumbledown “Tick of Time,” continuing to showcase the richly layered versatility of the Kooks that further point to their long-haul promise and potential. “I have to break down all the corners of the world / Don't heap this praise on me / I know I don't deserve it,” Pritchard sings on the ostensibly off-topic “Gap.” Okay, maybe the Kooks need to shake off some of that derivativeness before their ambitions really kick in and the manic pop thrill shifts into overdrive, if you can imagine such a thing. That’s more than hunky dory.

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch