It is almost unheard of for a band to sign to a major record label just three months after forming, but that is exactly what happened to The Kooks.
In 2002 vocalist/guitarist Luke Pritchard, guitarist Hugh Harris, bassist Max Rafferty, and drummer Paul Garred met at the Brighton Institute of Modern Music in Brighton, England. Between working together on a school music project and the members’ shared love for classic rock, The Kooks were born.
In 2004 the band sent out an EP with the hopes of simply landing a gig, when instead they landed a record deal with Virgin Records. Despite getting noticed so early on in their career, The Kooks did not yet feel they were ready to release an album. Instead, they wanted to go on tour together to let their sound evolve naturally rather than forcing it to become something in the studio. This instinctive approach to the sound of their music created an eclectic mix of British pop and indie-rock.
The Kooks released their first album Inside In/Inside Out in 2006, which reached the number two spot on the UK album chart. The album includes the two popular singles "Naïve"and "She Moves in Her Own Way". Both of these songs set the standard for what the Kooks are known for; catchy, upbeat, and happy tunes.
In 2008 the band released their sophomore album Konk with new a bassist Peter Denton. Konk reached the number one spot this time on the UK album chart, but it quickly slipped down. Though success was hard to maintain with Konk it did not set the band back. In 2011 The Kooks released their third album Junk of the Heart. The album had less success than Konk by only making it to number ten on the UK charts, and it did not produce any hit singles.
Both Konk and Junk of the Heart had the same musical feel that The Kooks had put forth since they began playing together, which may have contributed to their difficulty in maintaining success. It seemed that The Kooks needed to grow their sound, and they knew they had more in them—they just needed to get it out and onto an album.
The Kooks capacity for a greater musical range is apparent on their fourth and most recent album Listen, which just released on September 8th. After hearing Listen for the first time, it is undeniable that the band has successfully expanded its musical horizons. The Kooks made some significant changes to the production of their songs by working closely with London hip-hop producer Inflo, who’s influence is apparent with added percussion and a jazzy feel to many of the songs. The biggest singles off of Listen are "Bad Habit", "Around Town", and "Forgive & Forget". I would also give "Down" a listen to hear something more ska based and very different than anything the band has given us in the past.
The new sound of Listen has received both acclaim and fair amount of criticism, but perhaps this criticism is unwarranted. For an established band to change their sound is a brave step to take, and I think that says a lot about The Kooks. They have been around for a decade, yet they are still working to develop as a group and widen their audience.
Personally, I really enjoy Listen, and I would say it is better to be criticized for trying something new than for continuously releasing music that sounds the same. As frontman Luke Pritchard said about the different taste of Listen compared to past albums, ''This is evolution, so take my hand.”
The Kooks are currently on an extensive tour that just left North America for Japan, the U.K., Australia, and Europe until February 2015. Check out their tour dates in case you have a chance to see them live.
By Gabi Schwartz