Thursday, 20 October 2011

Kula Shaker - K

Artist: Kula Shaker
Album: K
Label: Sony
Original Release Date: 16th September, 1996
Purchase Date: 8th October, 2011
Record Shop: Ben's Records, Guildford

When I was around 10, I had a science teacher called Mrs Gardiner. I can’t remember too much about her, except for her name, the fact she was quite well-spoken and the occasion when she once professed a liking for pop music. How ridiculous – didn’t she know pop music was for young people?! (Like all teachers, she seemed ancient at the time, but was probably in her thirties). The day after her admission, we hit upon a new and exceptionally sophisticated form of comedic entertainment, namely putting on a plummy accent à la Mrs Gardiner, and pretending to ask for songs from the charts. Can you imagine, we thought, a teacher going into a record shop?! The creative peak of this improvisational period was when somebody put on a posh voice and said, “Excuse me, do you have Tattva by Kula Shaker?” We fell about – teachers were the very antithesis of cool but Kula Shaker, being pop stars, were automatically unfathomably cool.

Fast forward five years and I’ve just started reading “proper” music magazines (namely, Q). Despite its main cast still going concerns – Blur, Oasis, Suede and (just about) Pulp – Britpop is long dead. The music press only wants to talk about the new American rock revolution, spearheaded by two very different bands: The Strokes and The White Stripes. I wasn’t hugely interested in either of those bands and I didn’t want Britpop to be gone either. Despite being completely the wrong age for it, I loved it in all its swaggering, lagered-up, going-on-TFI-Friday glory. However, it seemed that the also-rans of Britpop were getting a critical shoeing. Kula Shaker, with their penchant for Eastern mysticism and a lead singer called Crispian who’d said some ill-advised things about the Nazis, were top of the derided list. Could it be true, that Mrs Gardiner was in fact cooler than Kula Shaker all along?

In reality, Kula Shaker were neither exceptionally cool nor a laughing stock and to this day, more often than not, get the thin end of the wedge. Looking back, it’s a wonder they ever sold any records at all. Debut album, K, came out in 1996, not even eighteen months after Jarvis Cocker had told us all that “everybody hates a tourist, especially one who thinks it’s all such a laugh.” Here was Crispian Mills, ridiculously privileged, from a theatrical background, attempting to be a voice for a generation. All this went completely over my head at the time, but even today, debates about class and status in pop rage on.

That said, I’ve possibly got more admiration for Kula Shaker now than I did when I was blissfully unaware of what they supposedly represented. Their penchant for Indian sounds could well have come from listening to George Harrison a bit too closely, but surely anyone with a desire to embrace new things and expand their mind should be encouraged, not ridiculed (how Oasis and Kula Shaker coexisted is pretty baffling actually). Plus, try getting songs about the Hare Krishna movement with sitars and Sanskrit titles (Govinda, the aforementioned Tattva) into the charts now.

Looking back on it from a distance, K is a damned enjoyable record, and one that, while synonymous with the Britpop movement, doesn’t really fit in with it at all. As Britpop celebrated the ordinary and every-day, K looked outside of that to a more spiritual plain while happily pilfering from classic rock of the 1960s. While their contemporaries may have been listening to The Doors, Kula Shaker grew up on The Doors and Grateful Dead records.

K is an album that comes with a large amount of baggage. It’s near impossible to discuss without feeling the need to either explain or make excuses (as I seem to have proved here). That shouldn’t let it distract you from what is a great – if patchy – listen and a reminder of when bands had room to manoeuvre, be a bit experimental and still have chart success. I wonder if Mrs Gardiner did ever like them at all.

What happened next?

Kula Shaker released another album (Peasants, Pigs and Astronauts) before splitting around the turn of the century. Crispian Mills then released two albums as frontman of The Jeevas, while the other band members recorded with other acts, such as Johnny Marr and The Healers, and Thirteen:13. Kula Shaker reformed in 2004, minus original keyboard player Jay Darlington (who played for Oasis), replacing him with Harry Broadbent. Since then, they have released two more albums (Strangefolk and Pilgrims Progress) and remain a going concern.

A 2CD+DVD deluxe re-master of K to celebrate the album's 15th anniversary is now available to buy.


JB said...

So basically there are two albums from the 90s you like. Pah!

John Medd said...

If it hadn't been for those Shaker boys Deep Purple would never have reintroduced Hush back into their live set. I'll get my coat.