British band the Kooks used to be once of my favorite bands, period, after they released a very nice debut album (2006's "Inside In/Outside Out") and an even better follow-up (2008's "Konk", which I had in my top 5 of the best albums of that year). Then, inexplicably, vocalist/guitarist Luke Pritchard and his band mates lost the plot. After a long wait came the band's 3rd album, the uneven and ultimately much-maligned "Junk of the Heart" (from 2011). The band seemed to realize that they needed a new jolt, and after another long time away, earlier this year released an okay EP called "Down" as a preview of the upcoming album (and 1st UK single). Now comes the band's 4th studio album.
On "Listen" (11 tracks; 40 min.), the band hired London hip-hop producer Inflo, who co-writes all of the songs on here with Pritchard, and this results in an unexpected but welcome departure from the band's tired-sounding "Junk of the Heart". The album kicks off with "Around Town" (2nd UK single), an eclectic mix of soul and pop, sounding great. "Forgive & Forget" (3rd UK single) continues the upbeat sound, with some electronic elements. The new level of energy, completely absent on "Junk", is infectious. "Westside" is a more 'traditional' Kooks tune. "It Was London" sounds out the first half of the album, which I rate 4..5 stars. In the second half, we find more bits and pieces of Inflo's influence, but frankly speaking I wish he'd insisted on even more of it. The best of Side B is "Are We Electric" (not to be confused with Gary Numan's "Are 'Friends' Electric"). After a nice "Sunrise", the album closes out the pensive "Sweet Emotion" (no, not a cover of the Aerosmith song). I rate the second half of the album 3.5 stars.
In all, Inflo has provided a much needed jolt to the Kooks. This band is back! "Listen" is MILES better than "Junk of the Heart". I've had the good fortune of seeing the Kooks in concert a number of times (including a now legendary in-store performance in 2009 at my local independent record store here in Cincinnati), and I can only hope they will come to the US in support of the new album. Meanwhile, whether you are a longtime fan of the Kooks, or just finding out about them, "Listen" is HIGHLY RECOMMENDED!