Saturday, February 20, 2021

“Paper dreams, honey”: 15 years of The Kooks’ Inside In/Inside Out

As the Kooks’ debut album celebrates its crystal anniversary, we look back at its conception, its cultural impact and how it sparked a brief rivalry with Alex Turner and the Arctic Monkeys.

The year is 2006, Nintendo has released its groundbreaking Wii console, Italy defeats France 5-3 to win the World Cup and Fergie is in town bringing down London Bridge. 

2006 also saw the release of one of the most beloved debut albums from a modern day indie band, no not Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not, but the often overlooked, Inside In/Inside Out by The Kooks, which turns 15 this year. 

It was this album that helped propel The Kooks into the mainstream music scene, going quadruple platinum (400,000 physical album sales) in the UK within a year of its initial release and making them a worthy competitor of Sheffield’s own Arctic Monkeys, who were topping the charts at the time. The album itself is, arguably, the bands best and most recognisable, with songs like Naive and She Moves In Her Own Way, in particular, becoming staples in British pop culture.

The Kooks met in 2002, when frontman Luke Pritchard along with Hugh Harris and Paul Garrad met Max Raffety after joining the BIMM music school and convinced him to join their band under guise of a school project - the four-piece then named themselves after a song on David Bowie’s Hunky Dory album. 

After finishing school in 2004, the group went full time and ventured out in search of gigs, despite not actually having any material recorded. However, after a chance encounter with a friendly pub landlord, the band managed to secure their first official gig purely based on their looks alone, as Garrad explained:

So we went in to get a gig, we don't have a demo blid burnt, and this guy told us, 'Well, you can't get a gig if you don't have a demo, but I like your hats, so I'm going to give you a gig.'" 

Shortly after this, the group realised that they would need content in order to get gigs and began working on, and distributing, their own demos (sidenote: Pritchard has stated that the very first song the group played was a cover of Reptilia by The Strokes, one of their biggest influences). However, they received a flurry of offers from music promoters and record companies, but decided to focus on honing their live performance first. 

But ultimately, the group signed to Virgin Records after being approached by talent scouts following their performance at a Brighton festival in 2005. The band themselves admitted that they weren’t entirely sure if they were actually ready to sign a record deal at the time, after all they had only officially been a band for around four months by this point.

"We were way too early to sign a record deal” Luke Pritchard told “We were really young, we'd been together like two or three months, so we really didn't want to sign. But then we thought it's a really good opportunity and Virgin seemed like really cool people - they just seemed to really understand where we were coming from."

Again the group made the decision to work on their live performances before heading into the studio, they opted to tour with Irish band The Thrills for a few months before fully getting underway with what would eventually become Inside In/Inside Out.

Now, it would only be right to briefly mention the Arctic Monkeys’ debut album, Whatever People Say I Am That’s What I’m Not, given the fact that we are discussing The Kooks’, as they were released on the same day as one another (you can find a similar article to this on the site celebrating its 15 year anniversary). This naturally created a healthy sense of competition between the bands. In the beginning Pritchard praised the Sheffield group for protecting them from so much scrutiny, as the anticipation for the release of the Arctic’s debut was monumental, he said:

“God bless the Arctic Monkeys because if it wasn't for them we wouldn't have been so shielded. We were so overshadowed by the success (of) it (WPSIA) because it was so monster and we crept in behind everybody's back.!”

However, the two groups haven’t always gotten on as, allegedly, the two frontmen came to blows after Alex Turner, allegedly (again) unplugged Pritchard’s guitar mid set, resulting in Pritchard having to “kick Alex in the face” in retaliation. Yet, Pritchard dismisses this as a joke between the two and that the press sensationalised the events to sell a story. Joke or not it appears the two are no longer close. The Arctics went on to reach number one with their debut, while The Kooks took the number two spot.

Emerging at a time where indie bands were flourishing and Britain was once again the centre of guitar-based music, Inside In fitted in well with the wider cultural soundtrack which included the likes of a maturing Oasis, the Arctic Monkeys, The Libertines and Bloc Party. The album itself is so quintessentially British - lovers asking questions of taking romantic trips to the coast and using nicknames like “Jackie Big Tits” - but its overall themes of love and early 21st century life are universal (you just ‘get it’ more if you’re British). 

Following in the footsteps of Britpop, which had only ended less than a decade ago, The Kooks successfully managed to sum up in 14 songs what life was like for a young person in the UK during the first half of the 2000s, as HappyMag wrote in their retrospective review of the album:

“Bathed in an unobtrusive British swagger and the banality of new age romance, The Kooks set a soundtrack of life as we knew it with Inside In/Inside Out.”

But perhaps the song that is known to almost everyone is the poppy She Moves In Her Own Way. She Moves is the one song by The Kooks that has appeared absolutely everywhere since its release (personally, I associate it with Gavin and Stacey) but there has been no official explanation by Pritchard or the band about what it’s actually about. However, we can make a pretty good guess as most of Inside In/Inside Out is mostly written about Pritchard's former girlfriend, Katie Melua. A common theory amongst fans is that the song relates to Pritchard still loving Meula but “moving on to better things” after the relationship concluded, which would make sense as the two separated after they both began to get successful in music.

After 15 years of being on the shelf, the album is still a very enjoyable listening experience and there is definitely something for everyone here. The soothing, acoustic opener Seaside evocs a hazy, summery aesthetic that will have you pining for a 99 and an afternoon sitting on the sand with the love of your life as the sun goes down. 

Contrasting this, the heavy beats and catchy guitar riffs found in Naive, Matchbox and You Don’t Love Me would allow you to truly let yourself go wild should they be played at a club or gig - they even manage to slip in some ska-like beats into the album too. This is definitely an album that has stood strongly against time and can easily still be related to by today's audiences.  

Inside In/Inside Out is truly a fusion of different genres and catchy choruses formulated into a solid post-britpop album that is not only a standout entry in The Kooks’ catalogue but in the wider backdrop of British music. The group may have moved on in their own way, growing to find new sounds across their subsequent four albums but their debut still holds a special place in the hearts of fans.

Archie Richards

Instagram: @archiejrichards @archiejrjournalism

Image: The Kooks Inside In / Inside Out HMV Store

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