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.
“There had been vague talks about ‘a ukulele project with our kids’ and half an idea to record some sacred Kirtan chants, but then the world went into lockdown, and the backdrop changed.”
“Obviously, it’s been a very weird time for everyone,” says Crispian,“I think the whole experience reinforced a lot of beliefs we shared about why we started playing music together in the first place. It was a kind of a reawakening.”
“Whatever that spark of life was that inspired us in the beginning, it seemed to come back. We were ‘filled with the holy spirit’, so to speak.”
With little opportunity to be together in the same room, demos and re-writes happened in advance, slotting-in recording in Alonza’s studio in Belgium around travel restrictions. The gestation of songs was gradual, many were initially written on ukulele, because Crispian was teaching the instrument to his kids. But the album also has some of his most inspired guitar playing — for connected reasons:
“Seeing my kids playing noisy rock and roll really brought me back to life, without a shadow of a doubt. I fell in love with guitar playing all over again.”
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.
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