Friday, August 31, 2012

Something Different, But Not Different Enough: K By Kula Shaker

The Good: Interesting sound, Some fun songs, Pleasant to listen to.
The Bad: Several predictable rhymes, Repetitive.
The Basics: Despite some intriguing instrumentals, Kula Shaker's debut, K, is fairly standard pop music and not worth the investment.

I think the biggest and best reason to pick up an album that looks to have a different ethnic bent to it is to listen to something different. Yes, as un-PC as it might be to suggest, one of the nice things about picking up a disc from someone from a different country, possessing a clearly different heritage or skin color is that one is likely to hear something other than the same banal pop, rap or country one listens to on one's chosen radio station. The multicultural cover with heavy Indian overtones for Kula Shaker's K, invites those with the desire to hear something different to buy the c.d. based on that impression. It's only inside the liner notes that the band is revealed to be fairly white, British band.

Kula Shaker's K, their debut album, is basically british pop with an Indian flavor to it. So, the short version of this review is that if you're looking for a truly different cultural experience, well, you can't judge a c.d. by its cover that way. There is, however, enough to this disc to make it different from most of the musical flotsam that permeates the airwaves these days.

The best thing K has going for it is its sound. Unlike the standard "guitar, bass, piano, drum" band that define much of popular music, Kula Shaker on K adds the tamboura, tabla, and mellotron to the mix. The quartet clearly studied the music of India to add a sound that is reminiscent of the Beatles' tunes, post-India visit. On some of their songs, like "Tattva" and "Govinda," Kula Shaker achieves an ethnic Indian pop sound that sets the group apart from anyone else making music. They have a quasi-psychedelic, fluid sound that one could imagine belly dancing to.

The problem is, that's two tracks out of thirteen. The remaining songs are mostly a standard pop sound. They oscillate between the unpleasantly rambunctious "303" which could be any band's generic pop song and the mildly image-creating "Smart Dogs." It is ironic, though, that an album I selected in hopes of having a very different musical experience would yield its best track in one of the most standard rock tunes I've heard in quite some time. "Grateful When You're Dead" is a pretty peppy view of how terrible life is and how death will be a welcome release. It has a catchy tune, it's fun and it's the type of song I crank up when I'm having a terrible day. I drive along, smiling and singing this song.

But even that is an anomaly on the album. So many of the songs have predictable rhyme schemes. For example, on "Start All Over," it's no surprise that the line "'Cause I know if it's real" is rhymed with "make it real, make me feel." "Real/feel," "lie/fly," and "end/send" are typical rhymes that one hears frequently in popular music and so they all feel standard on this album. There are no pleasant verbal surprises, save hearing what one assumes is Hindi on "Govinda" and "Tattva." There are no moments when my expectations were truly defied by the lyrics.

In short, no brilliance, nothing terribly different from what I'd heard before. I'm certain there are other artists who blend a diverse array of instruments with their daring lyrics to make a pleasant listening experience. Kula Shaker is not that group. At least, not on K.

The best track is "Grateful When You're Dead," and the worst is the inane "303."

For other albums that are not at all mainstream, please check out my reviews of:
Playing The Angel - Depeche Mode
Real Gone - Tom Waits
Addison Road - Addison Road


For other music reviews, please visit my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2006 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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