The Kooks are repackaged candy for the long-forgotten, boy-band-loving heart, with its lingering fondness for disposable songs and a carefully crafted image. No trans fats! 40% more lyrics about love! Xtreme pop: Now with real instruments. With lyrics written to unnamed girlfriends and safe, well-worn melodies, “Konk” goes down as easy as hot chocolate . Or cherry-flavored Robitussin. Or a slickly produced quartet of British pop musicians.
The Kooks’ debut album, “Inside In/Inside Out,” went triple platinum, so it is difficult to blame them for trying to replicate their earlier success. The Kooks sound the same as they did on their debut album — but with a greater fear of surprising the listener. Hearing the same thing over and over again wears thin, and all cries for mercy are ignored: The Kooks bludgeon listeners with the cudgel that is their lovelorn pop formula.
Even the tracks about broken relationships are unrelentingly upbeat. Those looking for originality should keep moving. “Konk” is named after the studio where it was recorded, after all. All the songs on “Konk,” including the track “Always Where I Need to Be” (number three on the UK singles chart) lack the charm of “Inside In/Inside Out.” No song distinguishes itself as “Naive” did on the debut album. On “Gap,” the Kooks briefly deviate from the plodding, strummed guitar and peppy drums that characterize the rest of the album, but it is not enough to hold the listener’s interest.
Lead singer Luke Pritchard seems to be promoting the idea that the Kooks are adults now, both as musicians and people. Growing up for the Kooks means becoming subdued. Attempts to prove their worldliness come out in awkward bursts, as with the song “Mr. Maker,” about a righteous man troubled by the rough world he sees. All discussion of the undistinguished nature of the track aside, Pritchard’s reassurances to Mr. Maker sound forced.
Then the Kooks try to make themselves edgier by talking about sex. But when Pritchard sings, “Do you wanna make love to me? / I know you wanna,” on “Do You Wanna,” it feels like the embarrassing advances of a middle schooler. The Kooks are uncool, and have yet to embrace it.
Pritchard’s second-person lyrics about love keep the tracks ambiguous enough for romantic mix tapes. However, some of them are jarringly stupid. “One Last Time,” otherwise one of the best songs on the album, drops the line “A, b, c, d, e, f and g / Oh that reminds me of when we were free.” As helpful as the refresher course on the alphabet was, perhaps it’s time for the Kooks to graduate to words. Later Pritchard declares, “Safety pins holding up the things / That make you mine” on “Shine On.” What are these “things”? Her baggy pants from Hot Topic?
“Konk” is about personal life without being personal, familiar without being memorable. The Kooks croon, strum and leave no lasting impression.