Don't let them ruin this one for you. They'll say the Kooks are too young, that their lyrics are rubbish, that they play the same kind of '60s-drenched post-punk rehash purveyed by countless other British bands. They'll say that the Libertines did it the first and best, the Futureheads took it the furthest, and the Arctic Monkeys did it on the largest scale. They'll say that they wouldn't be anywhere if not for the NME hype machine. They'll be right about most of these things, but what really matters is that in a year full of promising debuts -- we'll call it a coincidence that most of them came out of the U.K. -- the Kooks' Inside In/Inside Out is probably the best of them all.
An almost-perfect blend of '60s-style Britpop, '90s-style Britpop, and the post-punk of the new millennium, Inside In/Inside Out is the rare debut that features not only the kind of exuberance/naiveté that only bunch of nineteen-year-olds could produce, but also the thoughtful consistency characteristic of seasoned professionals. The U.S. pressing of Inside In/Inside Out features fifteen tracks, but there isn't a dud to be found until track ten, "I Want You." Granted, Inside In/Inside Out isn't the most original album ever recorded, and maybe the influences are a little too front and center -- that the album was recorded at Ray Davies's studio should give you an idea -- but it manages, with startlingly few exceptions, to remain positively thrilling all the way through.
"Seaside" is the album's plaintive, acoustic introduction to vocalist Luke Pritchard, who offers a younger, less pathetic version of Pete Doherty's mush-mouth style. The song is a red herring, of course, immediately giving way to the raucous "See the World," which, with its perfect distortion and nifty backing vocal effects, sounds exactly how you secretly wanted the second Futureheads album to sound. "Sofa Song," featuring acoustic guitars during the verse, electrics during the chorus, and a playful song structure that ventures just far enough to be interesting without drawing attention to itself, probably comes the closest to summing up the Kooks' sound in one song. It's followed by "Eddie's Gun" and "Ooh La," which represent two more checkmarks in the "catchy as hell" column, and "You Don't Love Me," the album's stomper. The album's finest moment arrives during the gorgeous, melodic beyond belief "She Moves in Her Own Way," when an exhausted, lovelorn Pritchard, with regard the object of his affection, offers us the unconvincing aside: "I'm a better man/ Moving onto better things." He's helpless, but soon the guitars and handclaps kick in, and all is right.
There are a few missteps here, including the bizarre, misplaced "Time Awaits," which marries a Howl-era Black Rebel Motorcycle Club to the kind of Clash-inspired reggae that used to be the hallmark of the Libertines. It doesn't work, but it's not that wide of the mark, either. Closer "Got No Love" isn't so much a bad song as it is a non-factor; it's only a shame that a record of this quality doesn't get a proper send-off.
The Kooks likely won't cause quite the stir the Arctic Monkeys did ten months ago. They're not remarkably photogenic, they don't come packaged with their own Horatio Alger story, and they're not the flag-bearers for the MySpace "revolution" in the way that the kids from Sheffield were. What the Kooks are, however, is an exciting young band with one great album already under its belt. Given the pop instincts displayed on Inside In/Inside Out, there's quite enough reason to believe they have room for a few more.
Label: http://www.astralwerks.com/Audio: http://www.myspace.com/thekooks