By DAN MACINTOSH
The Kooks are one of the more consistently good Britpop remnants, and Let’s Go Sunshine is their fifth studio release. It’s also one of those albums, though, where bright, pop-rock melodies harbor far darker lyrics. The melodic hooks pick you up that is, at least, until the words bring you down.
“Four Leaf Clover” is a good example of this project’s overall cognitive dissonance. The beat clicks along purposefully, while vocalist Luke Pritchard sings similarly chirping-ly. However, Pritchard also describes the womanly character in it as one with “a real sick mind.” The chorus is nearly “Eleanor Rigby” sad once Pritchard sings: “And when the night is over/And the drugs are gone/All you’ve got is your four-leaf clover/You keep inside your coat.” Morrissey once sang, while fronting the Smiths, “I was happy in the haze of a drunken hour/But heaven knows I’m miserable now.”
Similarly, this girl is left with nothing more than a symbol of good luck and melancholic sobriety at the end of the night. This song’s character reminds me of an older version of junior high character Elsie Fisher in the movie Eighth Grade. In that memorably realistic film, Elsie creates life affirming YouTube videos for her fellow middle school students. In these clips, she explains how to have a happy life, like a precocious self-help guru. In reality, though, this poor young girl is miserable, lonely and almost completely lacking self-esteem. Similarly, the woman in The Kooks’ song has a “train wreck soul,” even though she writes a column for The Times “for all the lovers gone blind.” In both cases, it’s a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ situation.
One of the album’s few truly joyful songs is “Honey Bee.” For a couple reasons. For one, it’s set to a peppy, acoustic rockabilly groove. Secondly, it’s a sincerely hopeful love song, lyrically. Lastly, it features Luke’s father Bob singing one of its verses, making for one sweet vocal pairing.
In more cases than not, though, Kooks songs leave the listener feeling more than a little uneasy. One titled “Chickenbone” is about a guy that only feels at peace when he’s spending time with his plus sized girl; one that rolls him like a stone and playfully calls him ‘chickenbone.’ A person is left wonder just who is using whom in this scenario.
With “Weight of the World,” Pritchard (or at least’s Pritchard’s character) doesn’t sound quite so in control. On a track that also features singer/songwriter-y acoustic piano underpinning its instrumentation, Pritchard’s found attempting to make amends with an ex. This separation makes him feel as though he’s been drearily carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders. Along the way, there’s even a trumpet solo. It’s clearly — particularly instrumentally — a track that reaches back in time long before Britpop even existed.
The album ends with “No Pressure,” which lyrically contradicts most everything that comes before it. “We’re just having a good time,” Pritchard sings, without a care in the world. Ah, if only this was the same pressure-free world described in the albums other 14 songs. Elsewhere, a pressure cooker existence is described.
To be clear, though, the Britpop genre has never always been all positive vibrations. Let’s not forget, Blur can really be downers at times after all. When you add it all up, however, Let’s Go Sunshine comes off as more of a wish than a command.