Under Review: Kula Shaker – Pilgrim’s Progress

Reunions can be fun and fruitful ventures.  Kula Shaker is six years into its second tenure and, with the release of Pilgrim’s Progress, have doubled the output of its original run.  Crispian and the gang were last together on 2007’s Strange Folk, which was a fair (if forgettable) reprise of some of the group’s earliest fascinations.  Pilgrim’s Progress takes its name from a notoriously longwinded novel, though the music doesn’t always reflect that.  The album begins with “Peter Pan R.I.P.,” a dramatic and baroque elegy to the fallen icon of childhood innocence.  This might imply a more grown up or even cynical Kula Shaker this time around, but the biggest change is the band’s seeming aversion to unabashed joy.  On their massive debut, K, Kula Shaker delivered some soaring, sing-along choruses along with the requisite heady lyrics.  Pilgrim’s Progress leaves out most of those more rousing moments in favor of solemn contemplation.  The fact that all but one of the new songs run under four minutes is also a drawback, as barely anything is given the chance to stick.  “Ophelia,” which follows “Peter Pan R.I.P.,” is another impressive creation, with Crispian’s refrain of “My Ophelia” sounding as much like a lovestruck proclamation as the name of an incurable psychological condition.  After an unfortunately paced midsection, Pilgrim’s Progress comes to a close with “Winter’s Call,” a song that wafts between being a delicate dreamscape and a psych-blues workout.  It’s a striking conclusion to an otherwise unremarkable album whose handful of high points are too unevenly dispersed.  Even K only had three truly memorable songs, but they were strategically placed throughout that album.  I hate to boil their career down to a barely an EP’s worth of songs, but, with the exception of a few highlights, Pilgrim’s Progress doesn’t foreshadow a creative peak in Kula Shaker’s future.  Hopefully the guys are getting more out of this reunion than I am.

~ by E. on August 13, 2010.

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