CD Review of Strangefolk by Kula Shaker
Recommended if you like
Oasis, Deep Purple, Eastern mysticism
Label
Cooking Vinyl
Kula Shaker: Strangefolk

Reviewed by Michael Fortes

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W
ell, look at this, Kula Shaker is back! Not that most of us Americans noticed they were gone (or here) to begin with. They made a far bigger splash in the U.K., where their debut album K became a minor sensation back in 1996, what with the big hit singles “Hey Dude,” “Tattva” and “Govinda” bringing that coupling of Indian mysticism and good ol’ rock n’ roll back to the charts. It took a cover of Deep Purple’s “Hush,” on the soundtrack to “I Know What You Did Last Summer,” to really grab the ears of Americans. But after their second album, Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts, which found uber-producer Bob Ezrin helping the band more seamlessly merge their Eastern and Western sensibilities, Kula Shaker just kind of faded away…

And you know, who was there to mind? Even though K might have been the fastest-selling UK debut since Oasis’ Definitely Maybe, Kula Shaker’s songs simply didn’t have the kind of staying power that the best Oasis songs can boast. Not to mention that the Indian-psychedelic Brit pop fusion they created was more novel than anything else. What’s more, though “Hey Dude” had a killer guitar riff, that “you treat me like a woman when I feel like a man” hook was one of the dumbest phrases to come out of Brit-pop.

Actually, Kula Shaker did manage to record one brilliant tune on their second album, the single “Shower Your Love.” This one song encapsulated everything good about Kula Shaker, despite arriving too late to make much of a splash. All the Indian, psychedelic, folkie-hippie ideals and rock n’ roll came together in the most perfect fusion on this tune, and justified the band’s existence – at least for a brief moment in 1999, before they disappeared.

And so, here we are, in 2008, with Strangefolk. From the first three songs – the straight rocker “Out on the Highway,” the almost Jethro Tull-like “Second Sight” (no, there’s no flute, but the main riff is cut from the same cloth as Tull’s “Play in Time”), and the predictable but charming enough “Die for Love” – the resurrected Kula Shaker gets off to a rousing start, with just enough bombast to put their hippie-flavored Brit-pop across convincingly.

But then they go and ruin the vibe with “Great Dictator (Of the Free World).” Sure, all who sympathize with the peace movement will welcome any new expression shedding light on the dark ways of W, but this song might just be even dumber than “Hey Dude.” “I’m a dic- I’m a dic- I’m a dic-, a dictator!” Okay, it’s cool to get cheeky in the name of raising a snicker and maybe pissing off a parent or two, but this is just, well, dumb.

Unfortunately, “Great Dictator” is the catchiest of the bunch. “Super CB Operator” would have done far better in a slot closer to the beginning of the running order, being the best rocker on the whole disc with an unforgettable chorus; instead, it closes the album, giving the song the feel of an afterthought rather than a potential hit.

There’s plenty of musical beauty spread across the rest of the disc, though not necessarily in the form of strong pop songs. You might not be able to hum or whistle “Shadowlands” or “Fool That I Am” after the disc is over, but their mellowness will keep you listening, and the 5/4 drone of “Hurricane Season” might inspire some stoned twirling around the room. Oh, and it really starts to get all retro when the meter switches to 4/4 for the Doors-y organ solo in the middle! It all sounds great, but ultimately what we have here is Kula Shaker’s third three-star album in a row. Quite good, but far from great and with enough missteps to render it obsolete when the next classic rock apes come around. Still, points for trying. Long live peace and love!

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