Toe-Tapping, Head-Bobbing, Feel Good Tunes: The Kooks – Junk of the Heart

the kooks

By Charissa Lock @charissalock    

I have been a fan of The Kooks since hearing “Naïve” on the radio 5 years ago off of their Inside In/Inside Out album.  They were upbeat, fun, and though they could be classified as “pop,” I put them in 1960s pop category instead of comparing them to 21st century pop.   I think they would appreciate this, based upon their 60/70’s style suits for shows and music videos.   Already being a fan, I assumed greatness for their latest album, especially since it felt like they hadn’t had a new one in awhile. 

“Junk of the Heart (Happy)” welcomes you with open arms to everything that this album is about, musically and lyrically.  After listening to the album a few times, I realized how all of their songs are based on situations and emotions that are about love, whether positive or negative, which results in Junk of the Heart.  I feel that the “junk” is not necessarily a bad thing, but used as an adjective to include all the small details and large concepts that make up the platonic lusts and deepest desires of your heart.   The song itself puts you in an instant good mood, and by the second chorus you’re singing along because if Luke Pritchard wants to make you happy, he’s going to.   My favorite part, besides screaming “I want to make you happy….” is the instrumental solo, that I wish appeared at another point in the song due to its bolt of energy streaming from multiple instruments.   

We then get a typical mellow Kooks’ track “How’d You Like That,” though a bit more synthesizer and less grungy guitar.  This is the type of song that if any other band tried to execute, it wouldn’t work due to the incomparable vocals of Pritchard.  I think this the case for most of the songs on this album – it’s the raw British vocals that make these songs work, and work well.  “Rosie,” is the type of song that is all about building anticipation in the verses to the upbeat, trumpet and synth chorus.  Another great sing along.  

The next two tracks are my least favorite, for two very different reasons.  First, “Taking Pictures of You,” is probably a good song in some sense, but I’m not big into slower paced songs unless there is something special about it (well written lyrics, intense emotions, etc.).   This song doesn’t have that something special for me.  Now, “Fuck the World Off” should be a song I like.  Not just because the title is great after having a bad day, but it possesses The Kooks attitude of not giving a damn.  However, I am not a fan of the elements of the song, the melodies or pace.   I have certainly tried liking it because I really want to, but I just cannot get into it, which is sad really.  

This disappointment quickly disappears with “Time Above The Earth,” where the only downfall is the fact that it’s a minute and fifty-four seconds long.  Which means it is way too short.  The violins that begin the song so beautifully stay as the main instrument throughout as it portrays a Beatle-esque nature.   “Runaway,” is a bit electronic for The Kooks, but they are able to keep their feel, of course, with Pritchard’s vocals.  It has a great consistent reggae beat and the ending, as the beat slows, completes this tune and results in a thumbs up from me.

Now we’re back to iffy-ness with “Is It Me,” which is the slow verse build up to the upbeat chorus again, but this one doesn’t hold the same excitement in the chorus as “Rosie,” does.   However, there is a great guitar solo and bridge that makes this track enjoyable and worth listening to.   “Killing Me,” is another slow song, and I’m back to not being impressed by it.   And I’m thinking that I may have enjoyed their slower songs on their older albums because there were less electronic instruments involved and instead was created just with guitars and drums giving a raw and simple feel.   I say this knowing the next track is “Petulia,” which is the only slow song on their album I like, and surprise, surprise consists solely of vocals, guitar, and drums.  The Kooks don’t need all the plugged in instruments to make a good slow song, they just need to do what their good at and “Petulia” proves it. 

The next four songs are the best on the entire album, including two bonus tracks.  “Eskimo Kiss,” is The Kooks, that’s who they are and that’s what they do best.  It is very reminiscent of “She Moves in Her Own Way,” (off of Inside In/Inside Out) with multiple pieces of the song all being fabulous, the versus are upbeat and fun, the chorus has a great melody with great falsetto action, and the bridge slows down and throws in a great sing along “La La La-Laa…”  There are also the typical Kooks lyrics, the excitement of the start of a new relationship, “She’s like the diamond in the rough, she’s like the first girl that you ever wanted to touch and she sees me running.”   After reading a review where the journalist compared “Mr. Nice Guy” to a David Bowie song, I can’t seem to shake that comparison (which is why I added it to my review).  Though there are synthesizers everywhere on this track, it works here because the melody is as involved as all the instrumentation.  The second to last track is my favorite, “Carried Away.”  I don’t know why it didn’t make it onto the album.  It easily could have replaced the two slower tracks.  This song, like “Eskimo Kiss,” has that old Kooks experience, which I’m thinking is basically upbeat with a raw, dirty, and fun feel resulting in tapping your foot and singing along.  I love each piece of this track, and it’s not necessarily involved or has a lot of instrumentation, just simple elements with a great flow and does what it needs to.  The last song “Saboteur – The Magic Shop NYC,” is also a bonus track and is as interesting as the title.  The multiple orchestrations are carried by a heavy bass line, until the airy, John Lennon portion, and then the bass comes back at the perfect time.  The guitar solo is something that reminds me of a fancier version of an Inside In/Inside Out song.  This one has more of a bonus track feel, though I would switch this and “Killing Me” in a heartbeat.   

After listening to this album quite a few times, I began listening to the first three songs, skipping two, listening to the following three, skipping the next one and concluding with the last five songs on the album (this includes the two Bonus tracks “Carried Away” and “The Saboteur – The Magic Shop NYC”).   I don’t normally do this to an album, I will always listen to the entire thing, because I feel like it’s cheating the band if I skip.  However, the songs in between didn’t quite do it for me.  I became accustomed to skipping, but when I put the album on shuffle, I realized I fixed some of my problem.   Without the songs being grouped together, I was able to listen to those I wasn’t a fan of jumbled with those I loved.  It resulted in me now singing along to “Petulia” and hearing Beatles inspiration in “Killing Me.”  I still love the last four songs and strongly encourage you to purchase the album with the bonus tracks, the album would not be the same without them.   It may seem that I have been very judgmental, but I actually enjoy this album immensely and find myself putting it on when I’m in the mood for some feel good music that can either lift my spirits or keep me in a cheery mood.   

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