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Kula Shaker were lonely outriders on Britpop’s psychedelic wing. They were what Oasis might have sounded like, as well-heeled vegetarians with an interest in eastern mysticism and the odd song sung in backpacker’s Sanskrit. Tastemakers mocked them but it worked: their 1996 album K was the fastest-selling debut since Definitely Maybe.
Then the incense turned sour. Crispian Mills, the band’s singer-guitarist (son of the 1960s actress Hayley Mills and grandson of Sir John Mills), made unwise comments about how he’d love to play “with great big flaming swastikas on stage”. Cue media furore, unabated by Mills’s embarrassed explanation that he’d meant the ancient Hindu symbol of peace. The band’s second album tanked and in 1999 they split up.
Now they’ve reformed, like fellow mid-1990s alumni The Verve and The Spice Girls, and are back with a new album, Strangefolk, which is much as you’d expect. Antique psychedelia, cosmic nonsense about spinning wheels and wise old gurus: clearly not much has changed in Kula Shaker’s universe, although happily there were no flaming swastikas decorating Monday’s show, just back-projected images of trees and leaves. Meanwhile Mills, in green velvet jacket and mop of blond hair, looked like the ghost of Carnaby Street past.
The songs they debuted were competent pastiches. “Second Sight” was an agile flower power pop number, “Great Dictator (of the Free World)” conjured memories of The Monkees in bubblegum psychedelic mode. Attempts at trippy songs exposed their limitations: the swirling organ and monotonous rhythms of “Dr Kitt” didn’t so much open up my third eye as send it fast asleep. They’re a tight band – on the snappier tracks anyway – but they lack imagination and lyrics such as “Don’t want to strike your brother down/I’d rather dress up as a clown” are simply daft.
Even at the height of their success Kula Shaker were an anachronism. Now, at a time when India is emerging as an economic powerhouse – a place for westerners to make money, not voyages of spiritual self-discovery – they’re even more so. Their pseudo-eastern mysticism and vanilla psychedelia, however adequately performed, are an irrelevance.
Kula Shaker begin a UK tour in Southampton on September 30
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