Strange Folk

Kula Shaker

Strange F.O.L.K., 2007

REVIEW BY: Paul King


Timing is everything in rock music. The fickle business of what’s hip and what’s not in popular music has long been an important factor in the success or failure of any band. Take Kula Shaker, for instance; 15 years from now they may well be regarded as a classic 90s band but as of 2007, a mere eight years after they split up, they are largely seen as yesterday’s men and decidedly uncool ones at that.

Of course, this is all largely irrelevant when considering the musical worth of the band’s 2007 comeback album Strange Folk, but still, it does mean that the chances of this album connecting with a larger audience outside of the Kula Shaker faithful must surely be small.

The release of Strange Folk follows the dissolution of front man Crispian Mills’ interim band The Jeevas in 2005. While working on a charity album for the School Of Braja (a private Californian school expounding Krishna centred education) Mills invited his former Kula Shaker sideman Alonza Bevan to help out with the recording of a track. Before long, drummer Paul Winter-Hart had been roped in as well and a full scale Kula Shaker reunion was in the offing. Original keyboard player Jay Darlington declined an invitation to join the band and was replaced by new member Harry Broadbent. The spring of 2006 then saw the band release a four track EP entitled my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Revenge Of The King on iTunes and later as a limited edition 10” single.

While this album certainly touches all of the musical bases that we’ve come to expect from Kula Shaker -- mysticism, psychedelia, Indian chants and vintage rock licks -- there seems to be a distinct lack of fresh ideas from the band this time around. We’ve heard Kula Shaker play all of these sonic trump cards before and play them much better. Unfortunately, the album’s sound is not the only thing that has been rehashed on this record. Both “Great Dictator (Of The Free World)” and “6ft Down Blues” have been released by the band before on their Revenge Of The King EP, while “Song Of Love/Narayana” originally appeared as a collaboration with The Prodigy on their Fat Of The Land album way back in 1997.

Even the album title itself is a hand-me-down; ‘Strange Folk’ was both the working title of the band’s Peasants, Pigs And Astronauts album as well as being the title of a hidden track on their Kollected: The Best Of Kula Shaker compilation album. With all of these regurgitated elements at play, it’s hard not to hear the unwelcome sound of ‘barrel scraping’ permeating this album.

Another problem is that many of the songs here sound lackluster and uninspired, not bad but pedestrian and workmanlike. Is there any worse criticism for a rock band? There’s a lack of any truly arresting moments like “Hey Dude” or “Govinda” from their debut album or anything approaching the enchanting beauty of “Shower Your Love” from their 1999 sophomore effort.

This is all the more frustrating because there are times on this album when Kula Shaker really does manage to approach the high standards set by its earlier work. “Second Sight,” for example, is an uptempo rocker possessed of a sly, mercurial charm and “Ol’ Jack Tar” may be a slightly tongue-in-cheek ode to troubled sleep, but it’s also blessed with one of the most exquisitely haunting vocal melodies Crispian Mills has ever written.

Strange Folk isn’t a terrible album by any means. It’s just a rather disappointing one for those of us who know Kula Shaker are capable of so much more.

Rating: D+

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© 2007 Paul King and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Strange F.O.L.K., and is used for informational purposes only.