Kula Shaker - Pilgrim's Progress
Three years since their last album, Strangefolk and Kula Shaker are back, better than ever before. Forget the past, the controversies, the unfortunate remarks (let's not go there) and instead concentrate on th here and now. Pilgrim's Progress, named after the Christian allegory by John Bunyan, has a carefree summer of love, Haight Ashbury feel that is as captivating as it is beautiful.
The album starts off with the Syd Barret-esque 'Peter Pan RIP'. Lots of people try to do Syd and usually fail miserably, but this one works well, lush and dreamy but with a melancholy darkness that gives it just the right amount of edginess. Then it's the beautiful 'Ophelia', Crispian Mills never sounding better. The fey pan pipes contrast nicely with the harmonica blasts and up-tempo bluesy melody. 'Modern Blues' is a blast and sounds like it came out of the Peter Sellers film The Party. The song is pure fun from start to finish with Mills' spitfire lyrics bouncing around the pure pop melody: "Here come the bad times / don't follow leaders / fold up the red flag/ tear up your Nietzsche".
There is still the strong Indian influence in the music, especially in songs like 'Modern Blues', the gorgeous 'Only Love' and the Revolver influenced 'Figure it Out', while others like 'All Dressed Up' and 'Calvary' have a late 60s psychedelic folk feel. Fans expecting a full-band rockier sound may be in for a bit of a shock, but after a listen or two songs like the Kinksish 'Ruby', or the wonderful 'Barabara Ella' can't help but delight.
For sure Pilgrim's Progress is more subtle and atmospheric than their rockier past, but at the same time there is a homogeneous coherence to the album that may have been missing slightly from their past work. The songs feel like a trial by fire - passing thorough the worst of it and coming out stronger and more serene. The meditative 'To Wait Till I Come' and the euphoric 'Winter's Call' close the album and there is something celebratory and triumphant in this music, a positivity all to rare in today's music.
So open your mind and bathe in these blissfully trppy tunes. Follow Kula Shaker on their pilgrimage, you'll be very glad you did.