Everybody has heard time and time again about the “curse” that generally follows massively popular modern artists from the UK when they crossover in America, especially those with a decidedly British sound. While there are exceptions, these acts find themselves in clubs and theaters rather than arenas, with the occasional large cult following replacing ubiquity. Brighton rockers The Kooks
have been one of the biggest American breakthroughs in recent years, selling over 50,000 copies of their 2006 debut Inside In/Inside Out
during an age when people don’t even buy albums, so anticipation has been high on both sides of the Atlantic during the three year wait for Junk of the Heart.
When The Kooks are at their best, they draw major influence from the ’60s and ’90s British pop eras but spin them in a way that comes across as grounded in the present, if not outside of time. On standouts such as “Eskimo Kiss” and “Mr. Nice Guy”, The Kooks channel the British Invasion, but with a highly melodic, sunny sound that’s vaguely nostalgic but not at all revivalist.
Unfortunately, an inescapable familiarity persists throughout Junk of the Heart. Lead single “Is It Me” and the inevitable single that is the title track may sound destined, if not intended, for the radio, but bring to mind recent artists such as Arctic Monkeys rather than making a lasting impression. Additionally, Junk of the Heart is also overtly familiar in the context of the band’s other works. At the middle of the album, they experiment with strings on “Time Above the Earth” and dabble in synthpop on “Runaway”, but aside from moments like these, Junk of the Heart is business as usual for The Kooks.
In all fairness, The Kooks are a band that is upfront about both their influences and pop ambitions. They’re not here to reinvent the wheel or push any musical boundaries, and that’s okay. Rather than changing the world, The Kooks are here to make it a little brighter. Junk of the Heart may not convert any of The Kooks’ detractors, but its hooks should be enough to satisfy fans of their light, catchy pop.
Essential Tracks: “Mr. Nice Guy”, “Time Above the Earth”, “Eskimo Kiss”