The fifth LP by The Kooks is titled Let’s Go Sunshine. Yet this latest release by the British rockers sounds more like night music than daytime listening. The easygoing, yet moderately dark songs are best suited for hazy evenings during this liminal time of year, when the heat is still making the air shimmer, but the color of the sky quickly gets dimmer.
According to frontman Luke Pritchard’s interview with The Evening Standard, the band started working on this album in 2015, but decided to scrap the original work and start anew, aiming to break out of old molds. The result is… well, honestly not too different from previous releases. Sure, if you choose a song at random and compare it to any track on 2006’s buoyant Inside In/Inside Out, you’ll notice a disparity. But the record, which is based around sing-able choruses but makes you pause with a smile on your face every so often due to some instrumental flourish, seems to be more or less a natural progression from 2014’s Listen, which also had a few surprises up its sleeves. This similarity isn’t a bad thing, though; the music doesn’t need to be groundbreaking to be pleasant, and pleasant it is, in most places.
Let’s Go Sunshine eases listeners in with an intro. “We’re just having a good time, honey,” a chorus of voices sings a cappella, in a lighthearted fashion that makes you believe the people truly are having a good time. When the first full-length track, “Kids,” hits you with its punky percussion, that notion is challenged. “The kids are not alright,” Pritchard sings, subverting the famous line by The Who as The Offspring and Fall Out Boy have before him. The lyrics touch on themes of political angst with lines like “Good England thrown to the wolves,” but the band keeps things from getting too heavy to handle with “ba ba”s and “whoa whoa”s.
Instead of the bouncy guitars seen in previous tracks like 2000s indie darling “Naïve,” it’s the bass that takes the stage throughout the rest of the album. Often, this works to create a glossy disco coolness, like in “All the Time,” a tribute to the longing that comes with love. That bassline is the basis for a graceful production including gentle guitar strumming, spiraling strings, and passionate piano plunking. At first listen, it seems simple, but after you’ve played it back multiple times, the delicate background interactions between instruments become evident, like stars you can only see after a few seconds of staring. Surely this would be a pleasure to hear live with a full band, in a club with a sound system that can do the arrangement distance. “Believe” and “Fractured and Dazed” unfold in a similarly dreamy way, both musically and lyrically.
Speaking of lyrics, there are some interesting choices to talk about here. Specifically, let’s chat about “Chicken Bone.” The handclap beat and backup vocals create a laid-back vibe, and there’s a certain groove to the track that evokes other recent indie hits like The Revivalists’ “Wish I Knew You.” Yet the crux of the refrain, “She calls me ‘Chicken Bone’” (with the passionately sung phrase “my midnight tone” following it immediately), just isn’t glamorous enough to match the song’s atmosphere, or funny enough to be laudably ironic. (Yet somehow, I guarantee you that when you’re done listening to the album, “She calls me ‘Chicken Bone’” will be the lyric stuck in your head, for better or for worse.) “Four Leaf Clover” is another intriguing case. The song was written as a jab to journalists, and contains a few phrases that are pretty darn reactionary (e.g. “You got a real sick mind/You write a column for The Times”). Still, though, there ends up being a certain sentimental melancholy in some of the lyrics, especially in the central image—“All you’ve got is your four leaf clover/You keep inside your coat.” Other notable phrases include “I miss playing computer games” in “Tesco Disco”—so earnest you can’t hate it, because computer game nostalgia is indeed bittersweet, if you’re from the right generation—and “Gangsters hold up the store/with a love song,” from a Bonnie and Clyde allusion in “Initials for Gainsbourg.”
The album ends with “No Pressure,” whose chorus is the full version of the song heard in the intro. Such is the nature of Let’s Go Sunshine—cyclical, but in a nice way. Around twilight on your next weeknight, try putting on one of these songs, and perhaps you’ll feel some pressure fading away.