Album Review : The Kooks – Let’s Go Sunshine

The Kooks have returned with a new album, four years after their last proper release, and it’s fair to say that it offers a glimmer of hope for the Brighton band’s waning popularity. ‘Let’s Go Sunshine’ is inconsistent and perhaps a bit bloated, but there’s enough to suggest that Luke Pritchard & Co have the ability to get back on track after largely spending the last decade in a rut.

Let’s Go Sunshine’ is strangely back-to-basics and experimental at the same time, with the band trying to spark up a little bit of the old magic of debut album ‘Inside In/Inside Out’ to work alongside some fresher ideas, which for the most part are pretty palatable compared to some of the chances they’ve taken in their last two records.

Musically the record is strong, with flashes of excellent lead guitar and drum work, as well as some grand orchestral elements towards the end of the 15 tracks. The production is clean and mature, which is vitally important as the band need to prove that their music can evolve with the times and their audience.

Lyrically however, lead singer Pritchard still tends to fall back on some of his well-trodden old themes of wistful young love, which always comes across as contrived considering the 12 years since Inside In/Inside Out and everything that’s happened to the band in that time, from negative press to controversy to almost splitting up. There are moments where you can hear some progress being made in lyrical terms, but it’s not quite often enough.

Following the intro track which links up the final tune on the album, The Kooks kick off boldly with ‘Kids’, an almost grungey track with politicised lyrics and a punchy beat. It’s a cracking start and definitely something different for the band, with plenty of bite and an altered lyrical direction that seems unexpectedly comfortable for Pritchard.

‘All the Time’ is the closest link to the band’s last album ‘Listen’, which featured a lot of funk and soul elements that didn’t come across well at all. The funky bassline is back on this track and there’s a pseudo-disco thing going on, but again it just doesn’t come together in the right way and whilst the vocals do sound good, the lyrics are vapid on the whole.

‘Fractured and Dazed’ brings the quality back up, with its nostalgic feel and lush production, harkening back to simpler times in Pritchard’s life, both public and private. Hugh Harris’ lead guitar also shines bright on this track. However, you can start to see the inconsistency creeping in with the next song ‘Chicken Bone’, which has a pretty crass and patronising topic and not much to speak of musically.

‘Four Leaf Clover’ brings about the strongest sense of the sound that made The Kooks so huge back in the day, and that nostalgia then carries on straight past the 00s and into the 60s, with ‘Tesco Disco’, ‘Honey Bee’ and ‘Initials for Gainsbourg’ all featuring moments of dreamy and atmospheric sounds and some lavish instrumentation, particularly on the latter track of the three. This is a welcome period of steady songs following a choppy opening, and sees the band using their talent for melody to full effect.

That piece of joined-up thinking is then scrapped with pop-punkish track ‘Pamela’, which is a total anomaly in terms of the slower, more classic sounding tracks positioned before and after it. We all expect an album to slow down towards the end, so to shoehorn in such a lively track is a bit jarring.

Let’s Go Sunshine’ then does continue with the timeless sounding balladry, and the string section is used wonderfully on ‘Picture Frame’, ‘Swing Low’ and ‘Weight of the World’ in moments of tenderness, as well as some more anthemic and powerful sounds.

Closing track ‘No Pressure’ is the standout song on the entire record. It’s a proper sing-along tune that effortlessly puts a grin on your face, and its summery guitar notes are very reminiscent of the seaside; where it all started for The Kooks. Isn’t it funny how things work out like that? A pessimist might say this just proves that the band can’t outrun their past, but I would say it neatly ties up their discography so far and ends on a positive note.

The Kooks have taken a lot of flak over the years, plenty of it warranted, but ‘Let’s Go Sunshine’ is a defiant and clear step in the right direction. Whilst not without its issues, it goes to prove that there’s life in the old dog yet and the Brighton boys can regain their confidence once again.