Critical Voices: The Kooks, Junk of the Heart

September 15, 2011

Loyal fans of British indie darlings The Kooks will thoroughly appreciate their third album, Junk of the Heart, an album teeming with the upbeat, whimsical music that made their first two efforts hits. But where Junk succeeds in melodies, its cynical lyrics are an unwanted change to the group’s trademark buoyant subject matter.

Though the melodies are easily recognizable as The Kooks’ work, there are some notable stylistic changes. The band has continued to modernize its work by bringing elements of hard rock and techno to its core ’60s pop vibe. It’s hard to call The Kooks hard rock, though listeners will find a stronger beat and angrier tone in the tracks “Fuck the World Off” and “Mr. Nice Guy”—a deviation from more traditional, light-hearted Kooks’ tunes.

At the same time, Junk features tracks that introduce a slower and more mature tone to The Kooks’ repertoire. Where their previous efforts evoked no emotions darker than wistfulness or nostalgia, several moments of Junk suggest genuine melancholy.  “Petulia” is the strongest example of this trend, but “Taking Pictures of You” and “Time Above the Earth” also come off as mellow and sorrowful.

Despite these notable exceptions, the majority of the album retains The Kooks’ usual up-tempo pop sound. Lyrically, however, the band’s subject matter is startlingly consistent throughout Junk of the Heart—every single track features lead singer Luke Pritchard longing for the girl he has lost, is losing, or will imminently lose if he doesn’t stop whining.

The lyrics may be well written and even poetic at times, but many of the lines are so dramatic and drenched in self-pity that even more devoted fans may be polarized. Lines like “You’re happier than I,” “You were my only friend,” and the real stinger—“I can’t quite remember what life is about without you”—sound like they’re coming out of the brain of a creepily obsessive boyfriend.

Despite that annoying adjustment the album as a whole is another winner from The Kooks.  Junk is a success, but fans must accept that if they ever end up dating a Kook, they’ll have to deal with a pathetically clingy and whiny boyfriend, no matter how groovily retro-cool he might be.


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