Kula Shaker: K2.0 | Virgin Media
Kula Shaker

Kula Shaker: K2.0Rating: ★★★★☆ | by Ian Gittins

11/02/2016

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It’s hard now to remember why, back in the Britpop days, mention of Kula Shaker tended to elicit a curled-lip sneer of dismissal rather than a look of awed wonder.

It may possibly be because their appropriation of the sitar, yogic chanting and Indian mysticism was so blatant and earnest that it appeared a tad ridiculous. Then there was the problem that lead singer Crispian Mills, a scion of a blue-blooding acting family, was widely and unkindly ridiculed as if he were some kind of one-man indie-rock Bullingdon Club.

Yet beneath the new-age trapping and trimmings always lurked a thrilling, propulsive rock band, and that remains true on K2.0, their fifth studio album and their third since they reformed in 2007. The title echoes that of their double-platinum 1996 debut, K, and little has changed in the interim: opening track Infinite Sun is a mantra that they used to play in rehearsals aged 19.

The title echoes that of their double-platinum 1996 debut

As ever with Kula Shaker, if you don’t take them too seriously they are deeply enjoyable. The lovely, meandering Holy Flame could be Beck at his most down-home and ornery, while Love B (With U) sounds like the kind of hokum-spieling hippie band that you stumble across in some obscure tent in the Green Fields at Glastonbury at 3am, and end up enjoying despite yourself.

Whether they are infra dig or not, their trump card remains that they are strong, innovative songwriters. The bummed-out psychedelic rock of Here Come My Demons is Beatles-esque, or rather George Harrison-esque, while 33 Crows is a sparse, Dylan-like folk-pop trinket. Oh Mary goes into epic, multi-stringed mystical Indian mode: their sitar-nic majesties, if you will.

Kula Shaker

Now and then you find yourself muttering an exasperated “Oh, come on, Crispian!” The tiresome mantra Hari Boi is proof that repetition is not always an effective musical weapon, while Get Right Get Ready is a funky call to arms whose effectiveness is reduced by the fact that Mr Mills is not a leader than you can really imagine lining up behind.

Yet episodic near-five-minute closing track Mountain Lifter is a tremendous romp, as faux-profound and likeably preposterous as a silver-spoon Led Zeppelin. It is Kula Shaker’s fate to be seen as a bit silly. This is fair enough: they are. But they are also an underrated, very fine rock band.