This post accomplishes two things: bringing Lucio’s review of the Kula Shaker album to the anglophone world, and forcing me to do some alternative Spanish homework. Lucio’s views are his own: I don’t necessarily agree with all of them, but they’re interesting. As usual with my translations, it’s pretty fast and loose to try and catch the sense of the thing, rather than be exact.
The return of the band that was never here
Blur, Oasis, Pulp and Suede (BOPS) were, and always will be, the standard bearers of Britpop, artistically and commercially speaking. During the latter two thirds of the Nineties, they showered us with musical jewels that retain their place in the collective memory, and popular culture. Radiohead has always moved in alternate dimensions. Beneath all these, a long list of bands that, for one reason or another, never achieved the popularity or success of BOPS. Supergrass and Kula Shaker shine out on this list.
Mixing traditional Indian music with the voice and guitar of Crispian Mills, Alonza Bevan’s bass, Paul Winterhart’s drums, and Jay Darlington’s psychedelic keyboards, gave Kula Shaker a unique sound: mysticism and hook-laden melodies endowing a specific charm to the formula George Harrison created, 30 years previously, but with a fresh spirit.
K, (1996) their spectacular, dud-free debut, was followed by Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts in 1999, produced by Bob Ezrin. The second album found a band at the peak of their creative powers. Under the protective cloak of Columbia Records, the album was filled with complex orchestrations and backing musicians: it was their most successful album, although it lacked the spontaneity of the first. Then, without anyone expecting it, disenchanted by low sales, the band announced their break up the same year.
In 2004, Mills and Bevan agreed to reform the group, although with Harry Broadbent instead of Darlington at the keyboards. Almost three years passed before the release of Strangefolk (2007), launched with great determination under their own label: the band leaned on this towards more subtle, darker tones; Pilgrims Progress (2010) was more folk-based. Then, sporadic performances with little support, until they announced an indefinite hiatus in 2012. Thereafter, silence, until:
Recorded in Belgium and produced by Mills and Bevan last autumn, the group revealed more and more about the new album, little by little. Titled K 2.0, its opening track and first single, Infinite Sun, certainly left a good taste in the mouth. On Christmas morning we were told 12th February would be the launch date; they also announced a series of UK tour dates and, in line with the usual rules of publicity, released the video of the single.
It only remained for us to wait and cross our fingers: so, how is this brilliant K 2.0?
We already knew the opening track, with its appealing changes of rhythm: a very Kula Shaker theme. Holy Flame follows. It might sound plain on first hearing: but believe me, it’s one of the highlights of the album. Death of Democracy has this false riff that, it goes without saying, leads to Crispian Mills trying to be Ray Davies: that doesn’t turn out well. The wave of mysticism goes far better than the satirical/social themes. Then a strange thing happens: the song seems to extend for several minutes more: but, surprise! It’s the next track, with an almost identical rhythm.
33 Crows is a pretty, quasi-country melody, countryish, we would say, although little in common with the denizens of London. Oh Mary is typical Kula Shaker from recent years, slowish, with a change of beat half way through which then reverts to the original, but unfortunately with no hooks. High Noon sounds a lot like Strangefolk. The spaghetti-western style guitars don’t help.
Get Right Get Ready is funky and psychedelic, with a Deep Purplish intro, and – what the hell? At this stage you need to be thankful for being out of your comfort zone. There must be some reason that little of this K 2.0 on its first showing sounds like its launch. The album closes with Mountain Lifter, an intricate song with epic ambitions, including a mantra and everything: you know, the trademark brand!
To sum up, a good album that won’t gain extra fans (you’ve only to look at the number of Twitter followers), K2.0 is a sort of sonic compendium of their last two albums, before which there was this experienced band that, from the force of its riffs and energy amazed us with its debut, and left me open-mouthed by its successor. Sadly, the band has carried on for ten years with this ‘legends’ routine, staying active or reuniting to bring out an album which gives them the excuse to tour, interpreting these classic songs which still give them relevance and prestige. However, in the case of this album, it’s at a much more modest level.
This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. On the contrary, it’s praiseworthy: it’s well worth you giving this album some minutes of your time. It’s rare to find an album that covers its major themes at the start and finish. The problem is the middle does nothing outstanding to tie it all together.
Since the band announced this new reunion, I was excited by the prospect that, at long last, I might see them live, at least as part of some festival in the autumn. I must remain patient: the time runs quickly from now until September, and fingers crossed that they visit Mexico for the first time.
Finally, I’ve pleasure in saying there’s no need to explain why they called it K 2.0!
If you’re a Kula Shaker fan visiting the site for the first time, welcome! You might like my review of the boys’ brilliant gig in Glasgow a couple of months back. You might also like this tune – probably the closest I’ve got to KS territory…
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