So this busker wanders onstage in a grandad vest, great-grandad cardie and a straw hat that looks like it’s just been dredged out of a canal where it was home to a nesting family of mallards, strums a couple of chords of a throwaway acoustic ditty called ‘Seaside’ (general gist: “Oh, we do like to be beside the…”) and the place goes psycho-nutter mental. It’s like Panic! At The Disco have just come onstage in fluorescent, genital-hugging leather hot-pants and started licking Marmite off each other’s rippling elbows. Then three other blokes saunter on in threadbare footwear seemingly stolen off sleeping tramps and launch into a chug-rock number with ska bits called ‘See The World’ and you’d think P!ATD have been joined in a mud-wrestling frot orgy by the bassist from The Like while, behind the drum riser, the public execution of Gary Glitter unexpectedly produces a cure for bird flu. Hold on to your curried chips, Wolverhampton: could this really be – gulp – Kooksmania?
Having weathered the barbs about their ‘stage school’ past (so we’re culling anyone who’s ever studied music now? Goodbye Radiohead, sayonara Blur) and Luke Pritchard’s courting of Katie Melua (ah, so we’ll not have anyone who’s shagged someone more famous than them? Au revoir The White Stripes, Babyshambles, The Streets, Coldplay…), the only remaining gawpworthy thing about The Kooks is the way they’ve upended the current accepted rules of How To Make Fans And Influence Sheffield. These days it’s all about colouring inside the lines and givin’ ’em what they know: slapping the punter in the gut with rapid-fire grot-pop like the Dirty Monkey Things or tarting about funkily in eyeliner like the ’80s were never shit. In 2006 a dizzyingly-eclectic genre-whore of a record like The Kooks’ debut ‘Inside In/Inside Out’ – slipping the tongue to punk, funk, jazz, goth, ska, acoustic-folk, whiteboy reggae and ragged guitar pop – should shift like a hangarful of vomit-damaged new Vines albums at Sotheby’s, not go platinum and inspire a blitz of crowdsurfing even during the bits that sound like Sting.
That The Kooks have succeeded where other stylistic mix’n’match bands, largely through an overactive ’wacky’ gene, have failed, is testament to their impeccable breadth of classic songsmithery – how many bands could knock out a shape-shifter like ‘Matchbox’ that visits by turns a Coldplay bit, a Libertines bit and (do not adjust your NME) an Aswad bit yet keeps the Wulfrun Hall in larynx-shredding rapture for its full three bewildering minutes? Or follow it with a barrelling Ash-style pop stormer about floppy cocks like ‘Eddie’s Gun’? Or turn into The Cure for a laugh on ‘I Want You Back’? Or get away with calling a charming, heart-swelling acoustic dollop of sugary fluffiness ‘Jackie Big Tits’? Go on then, ¡Forward, Russia!, we dare you.
But could the rise of The Kooks also, pray, mark a new era of broadmindedness of The Kids in the face of The Tunes? Are we finally ready to rise up and beat down all the one-idea-flogging revivalist cretins clogging rock like so many No Way Sis flyers down a White Heat lavvy? Will there be bonfires of the new Primal Scream album in the streets? Will slaughterous, cudgel-wielding hordes descend on Wolfmother’s house baying for blood? Will the riot kids of Wolverhampton leave this place slavering to hang, draw and quarter the next band they chance upon who sound even remotely like Joy Division? Or is everybody just here because they like whistling the funky bit that goes “Ayye know/That sheee knows/Ayyyyee’m not fond of askeeeeeng!” in ‘Naïve’? Whatever, the Kook World Order is upon us; prepare all indie sheep for their deprogramming.