Saturday, 20 June 2009

Kasabian - West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum Album Review (2009)

What has happened to Kasabian?

I have been a huge fan of Kasabian ever since the band’s debut album smashed its way into my ears and introduced me to a world in which Ladrock swagger met electronic and guitar fusion mixed with plenty of self-confident cocky attitude. The follow-up Empire was hard work at first but I warmed to it within a few weeks, as the slower more down-beat Kasabian evolved from such less-than-humble beginnings.

The problem is, back then they could get away with it. Tom Meighan and Sergio Pizzorno were tenacious and arrogant but more importantly they were charming and engaging; a pleasant compromise between Oasis and Primal Scream, Kasabian were the future. Now the future has become a third album. West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum is not as insane a ride as you might expect from the title. In fact it is very straightforward. What started as a homage to a nineteenth century psychiatric hospital ended up as a frustratingly bland, badly executed, mind-achingly dull album.

You do not know how much it pains me to say this. It really does.

Given how Empire closed with the brilliantly brave and audacious The Doberman, I expected great things from West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum. The first signs of trouble arrived with the single Fire. Strangely it turns out to be one of the best songs on the album, even though the parts do not seem to fit together and it is all a bit laboured. This is something that plagues the album throughout. I have no doubt that work has been put in, ideas have been realised and time has been spent making this album. But the end results ‘sounds’ like none of these things happened. And that is why it doesn’t work.

At times the album is just bad Oasis. Yes the comparisons have been made at length but there was always a gap wide enough to distant the two bands. After the spirited Underdog, Where Did All The Love Go? is so Beatles-esque it could have been penned by an adolescent Liam. At two and a bit minutes, Swarfiga is an interesting instrumental. It lacks any real stomp and purpose and sounds at times more like a soundtrack for a bad ghost train ride in Blackpool.

Borrowing heavily from Twin Peaks, the awful Ladies And Gentlemen (Roll The Dice) is a tuneless drunken mess. Secret Alphabets is so disjointed and random that the constant jumping from one idea to the next is a constant distraction. Shame as the instrumentation in the last couple of minutes is genuinely good. Closing track Happiness attempts to be Screamadelica in a single piece of music. The execution feels like a final slap in the face. As clichéd as it sounds, happiness it is not.

It isn’t all bad news. Fast Fuse injects much needed pace and energy into the lethargy, stays close to the band’s roots but has a film of dirt over the polish. The western soundtrack West Ryder Silver Bullet is an engaging journey but drags hopelessly until the last minute of dramatics. Thick As Thieves in this respect should work but sounds like a piss-take, especially when it runs out of lyrics halfway through. Vlad The Impaler has all the right ingredients held together by a thumping bassline but it is still just going through already well-trodden motions.

West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum is best when Kasabian are doing something different. A horrible paradox because I don’t want Kasabian to be different. I want them to be Kasabian! I want a return to the glorious pomp of the debut that grabbed my attention in the first place. I want the attitude back. The energy. The what-the-hell-are-you-looking-at bravado with a jaunty smile. I want Kasabian back.

As a real fan of the band I wanted to inject some real personal thoughts and opinion into this review. That is why it is written in the first person, something I rarely do. I feel so strongly about this album and maybe more listens, the right mood, or a revisit might yield more positivity. But for now West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum will remain one of this years most important and painful disappointments.
-- CS (for TMM)


Traci Moore said...

Thank you for writing one of the most honest reviews of WRPLA I've read so far. As much as it pains me to say this I too am greatly disappointed in the album. I'm a huge fan and have been eagerly, loyally and desperately awaiting this release for two years. I have listened to the album repeatedly in a vain attempt to find the cohesiveness of the first two. The songs sound weak with the exception of Fast Fuse and Vlad. The songs don't hang together like they should and the strength, the bravado, the stomp as you say isn't there. What the hell happened? And doesn't anyone ever just say no to Serge? He shouldn't be singing lead--his voice is all right for harmonies or background vocals but definitely not lead. The band needs friction and it's not there. Serge needs someone to fight with, to up the ante, to challenge his ideas and push them forward more forcefully. Kasabian need a kick ass producer. This is a band that has the potential of truly being great. The way they take different elements and mash them together is brill and they are the only rock band out there doing something different. But putting out under developed ideas backed mostly by pompous attitude is simply not enough.
Live, the songs fare better, Tom handles most of the vocals as he should have done on the album, the loud, grinding guitar is there, aided capably by Jay Mehler. There's an energy live that is missing from the album.
Claiming WRPLA as a "psychedelic journey" does not justify an album full of ideas without direction.

Chris said...

Great comment thanks.

I often hear the line: "the songs are great live" to justify an album. If I want a live band I will go to a gig. I expect the same level of energy and enthusiasm to studio recordings. Kasabian don't seem to have that anymore.