Words by Mr Dan Cairns
Mr Luke Pritchard sits in a high-backed chair in a north London bar, sipping a very non-rock'n'roll gin and tonic. The Kooks front man, trademark curly mop atop his head, and wearing indie-appropriate regulation skinny jeans, is here to talk about the band's third album, Junk of the Heart. It is a record that finds the four piece back at their insanely catchy, melodic-pop best - the same quality that gave them breakthrough singles such as "Naive" and "She Moves in Her Own Way".
On new songs such as "Is It Me" and "Eskimo Kiss" you can hear the same band that arrived in the recording studio for the first time seven years ago, as fresh-faced music college graduates from Brighton, and laid down those early hits. "It feels as if we've gone back to those feelings we had when we were first making music," says Mr Pritchard. "We were trying to go back to an old way of doing things, making an album that is very much a whole record, one
The first two albums we were like monkeys, running round, getting smashed
you put on with your headphones, and listen to the whole thing. I know it's really rubbish to tell people how you want them to approach it, but that's what we were trying to do - and why it was so cool to make. The first two albums, both of them, we were like monkeys, running round, getting smashed."
We're sitting here to talk about the new album. First, however, as the 26-year-old singer readily acknowledges, there are other, older obstacles to overcome. The fact that the band's 2006 debut album, Inside In/Inside Out, was a multiplatinum monster is one such hurdle: a how-do-you-follow-that challenge few of us would relish facing. Another is the relative failure of the album's follow-up, 2008's Konk. For The Kooks, there have been additional glitches to contend with, including line-up changes and scrapped recording sessions. Coming up with an album as light, breezy and inventive as Junk of the Heart in these circumstances begins to seem almost miraculous. Mr Pritchard doesn't disagree.
"We had a few blows," he admits. "Things that were outside our control seemed to be ripping everything apart at one point. And it was difficult to understand why - because it felt as if everything was going so well. That was frustrating, definitely. But you treat life as it is, not how you want it to be, don't you?"
The old Mr Pritchard would have come up with something considerably juicier and more pugnacious than this. That version - the man who couldn't encounter a journalist without starting a forest fire of controversy, and engaged in highly publicised (if, the singer now insists, exaggerated) spats
Junk of the Heart, "an album to be lived with for a while", is The Kooks' third record and features Mr Pritchard's girlfriend on the cover
with Mr Alex Turner of Arctic Monkeys and Razorlight's Mr Johnny Borrell - was a fast-living loose cannon. These days, however, he measures his words, as if aware of how past firestorms helped to distract from the music The Kooks made, and misshaped perceptions of Mr Pritchard as a speak first, think later motormouth.
"I'm much more receptive these days to the idea of letting the music do the talking," the singer laughs. "Two or three years ago it would have been much harder to get through to me. Sometimes I got it wrong. But my opinion of myself is very different to what other people may think of me. I've quite often read stuff back that I can't believe I've said."
There's a culture of suffocating music at the moment. The danger is that it just ends up eating itself
That's not to say the new version has entirely abandoned the old ways - and amen to that, in these days of media-trained blandness. Speaking about heading off to LA to make the new album, Mr Pritchard says: "It was very cool to get away, to go to this other place, which for us was incredibly positive, and didn't have all the swirling cynics at every turn. We were in our own little bubble, just doing our thing." It's impossible to escape the feeling, as he says this, that the singer is just limbering up - and so it proves. "It's almost as if there's a culture of suffocating music at the moment," he continues. "The danger is that it just ends up eating itself. The cynics suffocate the music, but then they still want good music, too; it becomes this self-destroying thing, and I don't think that exists in a lot of other countries."
Mr Pritchard seems both chipper about the quality of Junk of the Heart - as well he might be - and realistic about where it is likely to fit in the current musical scheme of things. "People will be instantly unsure," he speculates. "But if they drop the cynicism, they'll see it's a really cool record. Who knows? I think it's an album to be lived with for a while. Nobody I have given the record to has instantly loved it. My friends are incredibly honest. There's been a lot of umm-ing and aah-ing. But then you'll get a call a few weeks later and it'll be, 'Mate, that tune - wow'."
Junk of The Heart is out now thekooks.com