en: Pilgrims Progress (album) [info]
A band that most critics would certainly kick out of bed and quite possibly down the stairs too, Kula Shaker have little to lose in terms of reputation. The band were something of an awkward oddity in their day, sitting cross-legged between surfy honkers Reef and Weller worshippers Ocean Colour Scene in the charts, putting out radio-friendly psychedelic indie and irritating the bejesus out of journalists. Their fourth album (the last was three years ago - don't you remember?) is blessedly free of the weight of expectation that so burdens others. But is it any good? It's not bad.
Peter Pan R.I.P. is a pleasant opener - a little twee (with a lower-case T), but agreeable. Ophelia and Only Love are gentle and pretty. Much of the album tends towards the acoustic, and although this is often shorthand for maturity, well, this stuff is mature. Critics loathed Crispian Mills for his earnestness and privilege, but if the earnestness remains there isn't a great deal of ego apparent.
Kula Shaker were never about forging ahead creatively, to put it politely, and it's hard to bat away the prominent references that rise like steam from the songs, especially when some hooks sound directly pilfered (All Dressed Up inescapably resembles Long Train Runnin'). There's a whiff of eau de Dylan about much of it, although there's also a healthy hint of Badly Drawn Boy.
The mystical elements that made journalists wince when the band were at their popular peak are still in evidence, if more subtle - sitar-esque strings pop up here and there, but there's nothing approaching Govinda levels. It's generally inoffensive and often very catchy, and if the band are derivative and musically scattered then they are at least true to themselves.
But Pilgrim's Progress ends clunkily - the meandering guitar-strangling caterwaul of Winter's Call is apparently meant to serve as a grand majestic finish, but sounds more like session musicians titting about trying to outdo each other in wide-eyed instrumental keening. However, overall it's a very decent album which might even win them some new fans.