Album A&E is a series in which we revisit underrated or misunderstood albums and give them some much-needed rehabilitation. Here’s a look at Kula Shaker’s ‘K’.
Does anyone remember Kula Shaker? Where are they now? There isn’t even one GIF of them on the internet. I’ll tell you. Drummer Paul Winter-Harthas owns a dog called Willow so enormous it was once mistaken for the beast of Hackney marshes. Bassist Alonza Bevan’s in a band called Tumbleweed and Harry Broadbent* on keys has been using menthol and eucalyptus to cure a recent bout of flu. And the King? Crispian Mills, or ‘Krishna Kantha Dasa’, to give him his Hare Krishna name, recently returned from “Mother India”. Of course he did. Oh, and he’s 40 years old today.
For anyone who’s 12 and missed out on Kula Shaker’s alternative Britpop reign, here’s a quick recap. Four well-bred boys from Richmond make LSD-driven psychedelic sitar-rock debut ‘K’ in 1996. It’s commercially successful (#1 in the charts) but divisive in critical circles.
Or as a 2/10 review in NME of comeback album ‘Strange Folk’ put it:
For younger readers, Kula Shaker were eminently punchable mid-’90s toffs with an irritating line in Indian spirituality-obsessed psychedelia, and, in Crispian Mills, the most instantly hateworthy frontman who ever lived.
Melody Maker slated the debut, saying:
There’s enough woolly-minded idiocy and crass contrivance in this one record to consign the whole indie-pop scene into the abyss
NME, on the other hand, gave it their support: “The Verve gone ethno-beserk… you’ll now find the Stone Roses under the stairs if they’ve got any shame at all”.
If ‘Shaker’s reputation is a tad iffy, there are probably three reasons why. First, there’s the whole Nazi fiasco. “I’d LOVE to have great big flaming swastikas onstage just for the fuck of it,” he told NME in the late 90s, but later apologised for his insensitivity, explaining he meant the original Hindu symbol. Then, there’s the posh thing. “Middle class twats”, begins the NME review of ‘K’. Mills is of course the son of acting doyenne Hayley Mills. Lyrics such as “I’ve got my stash and I love my hash/Thinking I’ll grow myself a hairy moustache,”, combined with Indian chanting, caused many to write them off as gap year tragedies.
Not me. I was captivated as soon as I heard ‘Govinda’ on the school bus in 1996 and played the album religiously for about three years. It was dreamier and less gritty than ‘(What’s The Story) Morning Glory?’ and obviously I had posters of the milk-haired dreamboat on my walls. The album is my very own madeleine: one track and I’m a chubby 12-year-old in Ken Market buying joss sticks and drapes, wearing shit velvet outfits from M&S.
The riff on ‘Smart Dogs’ is enough of a reason to resuscitate this album in its entirety. As are the beautiful second part to ‘Hollow Man’ that comes just before the hidden track and the bassline to ‘Hey Dude’. Mills’ nonchalant, London drawl works perfectly alongside lush harmonies, bold guitar solos and 90s keys. And who knew a song about the A303 could sound so exotic?
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*Correction: Jay Darlington played keys on ‘K’ and Harry Broadbent joined when the band reformed in 2006