Making their full-length return after reforming in early 2006 and releasing an iTunes-only EP, Kula Shaker sounds, on Strange Folk, nearly the same as they did when they called it quits back in 1999. Considerably more successful overseas than in the U.S., where they’re remembered (if at all) for “Tattva,” a Top 10 modern rock hit with a hook written in Sanskrit, and for an enthusiastic cover of “Hush” for the I Know What You Did Last Summer soundtrack, Kula Shaker distinguished themselves from their contemporaries on the Britpop scene by playing a dedicated brand of psychedelic-era classic rock infused with Eastern mysticism. That they were easy to dismiss as a novelty, what with the singing in dead languages and unironic “peace and love” talk, and that frontman Crispian Mills sparked a good deal of controversy with some poorly-phrased comments about the swastika symbol that many people misread as sympathetic to the Nazi party, gave the band a relatively short shelf life.
While new songs like “Song of Love/Narayana” and “Second Sight” still include nods to the band’s Indian spirituality, many of the overt references from their earlier work have been replaced here by ham-fisted political imagery. That ultimately robs Strange Folk of Kula Shaker’s most distinctive selling point. The album suffers from didactic screeds like “Die for Love” and “Hurricane Season,” with the worst of the lot, “Great Dictator (Of the Free World),” actually lifting its juvenile lyrical hook (“I’m a dick, a dick, a dick, a dictator”) from A Simple Plan’s god-awful “Addicted.”
More than a decade removed from their commercial peak, however, Strange Folk should play well to the diehards who remain from their once-sizable fanbase. The Doors-style organ riffs and the trippy flourishes of sitars and finger-cymbals still typify the band’s sound; with their fuzzy guitar riffs and a retro fetish that spans centuries rather than decades, songs like “Shadowlands and “Fool That I Am” wouldn’t sound out of place on classic rock playlists with the Doors’ “Light My Fire” and Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman.” Even if Kula Shaker never transcend their vintage influences, it’s on the dreamier songs like the title track and “Persephone” (billed as a bonus track, a move that’s antiquated in its own right) that Strange Folk stands as an unexpectedly welcome comeback.