Those who were hooked on The Kooks brand of mid-noughties indie might find themselves stepping back a little disorientated upon first listening to this latest album. Frontman Luke Pritchard is quite right in calling the album ‘the first of chapter two’ (NME). If their greatest success Naïve was the Kooks youthful brooding, mourning over the romantic disappointment of a wayward girlfriend, then Forgive & Forget is undoubtedly its older, wiser counterpart. Instead this second track of Listen treats this disappointment with a kind of funk- infused resolute positivity. The lyrics “You say you need someone to love you/But it ain’t me/So I forgive and forget you” surmise the persistently high-spirited sense of closure throughout this track. The subsequent track “Westside” continues on this cheery tone but goes a bit into overdrive and seems to completely leave behind all that initially appealed to fans.
Pritchard goes for a much more candid approach with “See Me Now,” reflecting on the death of his father when he was a child. The piano melody that dominates the track adds to this quite genuine and sincere moment on the album, continuing the soul and funk influence throughout Listen with the use of a soul choir. On the opposite end of the spectrum the single first released off the album “Down” is yet another point where it seems the experimental direction the band have taken this time round might simply go over the heads of their original fan base. “Are We Electric” takes a similar odd turn with its 80s electro tune, almost as if it’s blatant statement by the band that they are trying to outgrow their earlier sounds instead of letting it naturally happen. “Sunrise” and “Around Town” are two other examples of this territory that goes beyond being unfamiliar, to simply just confounding fans as to what direction the Kooks are trying to take with the album. Fortunately “Sweet Emotion,” as one of the more laidback tracks of the album feeds on from earlier songs’ clear funk influences. It’s a more subtle deviation from their established sound and is the track that better signals a natural growth and maturity than the first released tracks off the album, like “Down.” “Bad Habit” is again one of the stronger tracks in being less of a contrived effort to be experimental.
Overall the drastic shift in the Kooks sound throughout Listen had the potential to be successful had it not been stifled by attempts to push the boundaries under their more experimental influences. Songs such as “Forgive & Forget” and “Sweet Emotion” are markedly better examples of how this has actually been a success when the band are more understated in meshing indie-rock with funk and soul.