In Hear This, A.V. Club writers sing the praises of songs they know well. This week, we’re talking about bands we thought should have been bigger than they were.
It’s hard to break into the States. Kula Shaker might have been big for a hot second in Britain, selling 850,000 copies of 1996’s K and winning British Breakthrough Act at the 1997 BRIT Awards, but in America, it’s hard to find anyone who even remembers they existed—or, actually, continue to exist following a 2004 reunion.
At least Kula Shaker was popular in Cleveland. Fronted by Crispian Mills (son of The Parent Trap’s Hayley), the spiritually tinged Britpop act got regular airplay throughout northeastern Ohio for at least part of the late ’90s, with stations like WENZ 107.9 throwing psychedelic tracks like “Tattva” into rotation. “Hush” even showed up on the soundtrack for I Know What You Did Last Summer. And while the band’s blend of Indian mysticism and British psych pop might have been a bit much for people on “Govinda,” given that the track was sung entirely in Sanskrit, fans seemed to embrace songs like “Hey Dude”—its title an obvious Beatles reference. Churning and chock-full of all the best Britpop elements, “Hey Dude” is a track that could have made Kula Shaker the new Blur or Pulp, if only anyone could have understood what the heck Mills was even talking about.
Inter-band and inter-management strife didn’t help the group, and neither did some unfortunately vague pro-Hitler chatter Mills doled out to Melody Maker and NME right after K’s release. While the band soldiered on, winning awards and playing basically every major U.K. festival that year, it ultimately faltered, failing to capitalize on its success. Kula Shaker’s follow-up record, Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts, didn’t come out until March of 1999, light years later in casual Britpop fan time; America was all about Limp Bizkit and crotch rock by then, and casual fans had nearly forgotten about the group. Concurrently released single “Mystical Machine Gun” spent only two weeks in the U.K. Top 40, and the band broke up later that year. They’d reform five years later around a charity album made for a Krishna school in California, but the damage was done, and Kula Shaker never really made the impact it could have.