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Yea, though we walk through the valley of dark shadows… and though there is a famine of supercharged, spirit jangling, fractal protest rock, there are good tidings. The battle has not been lost to average digital earworms; the zeitgeist has gone into a spin and Kula Shaker have been called forth to deliver their most inspired album in years. 1st Congregational Church Of Eternal Love and Free Hugs is a firebrand double-album, energised and purposeful in a way that few guitar bands currently manage. It spills over with blazing songs (15 in total), cross-genre sonics and a renewed super confidence in its wish to joust into the big themes: Love vs Fear; Lucifer vs St Michael; freedom vs autocracy; Colonials vs The Indians: The Empire vs The Rebellion.
All quite surprising for an album that wasn’t part of the plan. Kula’s previous album, ‘K.2.O’ (2016) was a 20th anniversary marking of their Britpop-slaying debut ‘K’, which, according to Crispian Mills should have been a ‘closing of the circle’, coming to an end-point after a year-long world tour. Three years further on however, Crispian and the band’s bassist and studio guru Alonza Bevan; drummer Paul Winterhart and keyboardist Henry Broadbent were drawn back together.
Wrapped within an eye-popping sleeve fresco depicting mankind’s stuggle with The Beast and populated by heroes and villains, angels and Ganeshas, clowns, warriors, knights and The Marx Brothers (yes) – as if Hieronymus Bosch had dropped mushrooms after a week of the History Channel and Bible/ Mahabharata studies. There is also a theatrical framing to the songs, with all the ‘action’ taking place under a badly leaking roof in the quaintly imagined village church of Little Sodbury. Starting with the introductory Dearly Beloved, the church pastor presides over a bronchially challenged congregation while an epic thunderstorm rages overhead. ‘Kula Shaker 6’ is ardent, but it’s far from solemn.
“You could say 1st Congregational church of Eternal Love is the band’s ‘altar-ego’,” explains Crispian. “We just liked the mental imagery of the small church with a rickety, leaky roof and a great storm raging in heaven, with all these tiny people huddled together to tell stories and sing songs and make it through the dark night.”
After three decades of engaging and disengaging with the frantic theatre of rock music, it’s a thing of great joy to hear Kula Shaker sounding so free of battle weariness and PTSD. Behind them lies a by now epic tale of their own outlandish struggles and phases. From their roots in the early 90s psychedelic circuit; the band mind-meld with a 9th century Indian mystic King who’s name they (more or less) adopted; the balloon-in-a-gale flight to stardom with singles ‘Tattva’, ‘Hey Dude’ and ‘Govinda’ ascending the charts and first album ‘K’ selling in pop truckloads. The band’s trip has wound through gonzo success, media sensationalism, and music industry hubris.
The weight of all that experience will either dilute your vision or hone your craft. In the revelatory grooves and stained-glass refractions of 1st Congregation there’s all the evidence needed to hear which way it’s gone. Here is a band on fighting form.
Praise be to one-ness, and let’s give thanks that Kula Shaker have come back to do battle in the post-retro rock landscape with such an assured display of vehemence and songcraft, and such a sustained collection of fiery sonic epistles, shooting searing love beams into the night sky.
So endeth the lesson. Please remain standing while the choir leaves.