Brighton-formed indie-pop sorts The Kooks arrived with a whopping great slap about the cheeks of the British charts in 2006, with the band’s ‘Inside In/Inside Out’ debut LP going to number two domestically and ultimately selling over two million copies. Not bad The Kooks, not bad. Album two, ‘Konk’, went one better: straight to the top spot on release in April 2008.
While it does sound a bit mean saying that’s as good as it got for the foursome, it’s nevertheless the truth. Album three, ‘Junk Of The Heart’, was a tired-sounding set that just about went top 10, happy to occupy that middle-of-the-road space that awaits all acts short on inspiration. Time for a rethink, time for some action.
Which leads us nicely to ‘Listen’, the band’s forthcoming fourth LP, which marks quite the radical reinvention. Frontman Luke Pritchard brought London-based hip-hop producer Inflo into the fold, and his presence has evidently revitalised the group. That much is clear from the first single from ‘Listen’, the zesty and R&B-flecked ‘Down’.
Pritchard spoke to Clash about five (well, six) inspirational albums from his own collection, and how they’ve played their part in The Kooks’ new direction.
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The Kooks, ‘Down’, from ‘Listen’
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Beastie Boys – ‘Check Your Head’ (1992)
“I think ‘Check Your Head’ was the first album of theirs I got into, so there’s a lot of nostalgia locked up in it. But I really like the musicianship on this record – it’s got jazz in there, and it shows what accomplished musicians the Beasties were. I’ve always loved it – but at the same time, it’s hard to separate out just one Beasties album, as a standout.
“What I really love about the Beasties – and what I love about this record in particular – is how they’re almost genre-less. They’re a rap group, sure – except they’re also a punk band that can play funk and jazz. Lyrically they’re pretty punk, with these moral bases. I’ve found this album quite inspiring in relation to the album we’ve just made – because it’s the Beasties proving they don’t have to be pigeonholed, that they don’t just have to come over one way. They’re doing multiple things on this record.
“I have actually had a little go at rapping, but I’m not very good, as you can probably imagine. I kind of felt that Inflo was treating me a bit like a rapper. I’d jump in with words, and just scribble things down as we went.”
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Michael Jackson – ‘Off The Wall’ (1979)
“I don’t know why I had this record on – I guess it was my mum’s, or dad’s – but I think so much of it is perfect. Its harmonies, the vocal melodies… it’s just one of the best records ever, for me. And for most people, probably. There’s an interesting freedom to it – I think they did it kind of on their own. I heard the label didn’t want him to do it with Quincy (Jones), so him and Michael set about doing it anyway, off their own backs. And you feel that on the record – they’re doing whatever they wanted to. Even though it’s a pop record, it’s got a lot of varied stuff in there. It’s an amazing piece of work.
“It’s got a real independent spirit, but it’s very accessible, too – they’re being true to themselves without ignoring the needs of the audience. It’s a massive pop record, and it proves that classifying yourself as one type of artist doesn’t really matter. You put this on in a room and everybody wants to dance, doesn’t matter what you’re into. I don’t think you can help dancing to it. Put on ‘Working Day And Night’ and people are moving, wherever you are.”
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Serge Gainsbourg – ‘Gainsbourg Percussions’ (1964)
“I’ve always loved this record. Years ago, I got this collection of old records, and this was amongst it. Serge put out an amazing amount of records, but the way that this is put together, it’s totally unique. I’ve not heard another album like it. It has all of this African percussion, but then sometimes this piano, and then all the harmonies. I think it really works, with a real special atmosphere.
“I think this was an important record for him, too. He started out, I guess, as something of a dandy – but here he is, moving towards world music, away from those earlier records. This is so raw. It almost sounds unfinished, which I really like about it.”
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Bob Dylan – ‘Desire’ (1976)
“I can always put a Dylan album on, and my favourites change all the time. Right now it’s ‘Desire’, which is one of the first albums I had by him, and it really turned me on to a lot more of his music. It’s 100% a storyteller album – take a song like ‘Isis’, that’s a lot clearer to follow, as a story, than a lot of his other work. These songs are a little less abstract – you really know what’s going on, albeit with that same off-the-beat charm. I love Emmylou Harris being on it, too.
“The song ‘Mozambique’ is amazing – that just has such an incredible atmosphere. It’s ridiculous. But the album also features one of Dylan’s most heart-breaking songs, ‘Sara’, which is kind of ‘Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands’ part two, isn’t it. It just hits me, that song… its lyrics. It’s amazing. I dunno, I relate to it. I think Dylan is brilliant when he reveals more of his personal life – that leaves a massive impact on me. ‘Sara’ is really, really sad. I mean, listen to the whole of ‘Blood On The Tracks’.
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The Clash – ‘London Calling’ (1979) / ‘Sandinista!’ (1980)
“Can I have both? They’re really different records. Even going into ‘London Calling’, The Clash were changing quite a bit, away from their earlier, simpler punk music. ‘London Calling’ was comparatively plush, and it has grooves, which made them stand out amongst punk bands. They had a real, deep groove. And then to go from that to ‘Sandinista!’? Well, it’s a hard record to describe to someone, if they’ve not heard it, isn’t it. What is it? It’s this collage of songs, and sounds.
“It’s certainly not coherent, that’s for sure. Like, the song ‘Version City’ – it’s full of these mental, weird sounds. It’s The Clash operating out of what was their comfort zone. It’s less digestible, but an incredible piece of work. There are bits of music that just come in for 30 seconds, and vanish. And lyrically, Joe Strummer was working through a lot of stuff – like Dylan, he’s a great storyteller. The opener, ‘The Magnificent Seven’, those lyrics are amazing – but he’s just read them from a newspaper, hasn’t he? It’s just information, that asks you to use your imagination.
“Sometimes people don’t get records straight away. I think The Clash ended up fighting their label a little with ‘Sandinista!’ – they wanted to sell it cheap, or even give it away. They brought Mikey Dread into their camp, and that freshened them up, which is a bit like Inflo coming to work with us.
“His influence is on everything. We’ve drawn so much from him. I knew I wanted someone from the hip-hop world, as I’ve been using certain programmes for the first time. Inflo really knows his music – he’s not just into beats. We didn’t know we’d do the whole record with him, but I really liked what he’d done, and when we met he was cool. He brought so much new music through the door, and helped us change the way we’ve been working – it’s been a really creative time. We’ve used sampling for the first time, and there’s a lot of improvising. It’s fun!”
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The Kooks, ‘Forgive & Forget’, from ‘Listen’
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As told to Mike Diver
‘Listen’ is released on September 1st through Virgin EMI. Find The Kooks online here.
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