Wednesday, 21 September 2011

Kasabian - Velociraptor! (Album Review 2011)

Back in June 2009 I wrote a review of Kasabian’s last album, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum. It wasn’t kind. Since then I have listened to the album a few more times and the times have not been kind. It is still a massive disappointing mess in spite of winning best album at the Q and NME awards. In conclusion, I asked for Kasabian to stop going through the motions and do something different, while at the same time, to not stop being Kasabian. Bring back the attitude, the energy, and the (deep breath – and I quote) what-the-hell-are-you-looking-at bravado with a jaunty smile. After a great debut, the band I thought had huge promise and would inevitably fill the gaping hole left by Oasis and The Verve, came off the rails; the songs were non-existent and the dream fell flat. I felt it was an honest and open review written about a band that I truly wanted to be the best in the world but, in fact, were not.

Through all this, I kept the faith. Kasabian were still a great live band and make the best of the songs they have. Tom Meighan is a great frontman, brimming with swagger and self-belief, the eponymous debut is still good, Empire is an excellent follow-up and the band continues to talk and walk the talk and the walk. So with fourth album Velociraptor! the potential for another mess is looming. Thankfully faith is restored and Kasabian return with an album that is not only varied and interesting but packed with equal measures of attitude and, above all, great tunes.

An early highlight is single Days Are Forgotten with its glorious guitar-twang, drum stomp and mad-eyed falsetto choral chanting. Bring in Meighan’s vocals and the blend is complete. An injection of melody arrives with the chorus, adding a smooth sheen over the sharp confrontation of the verses. Lyrically this is nothing more than you would expect (rhyming silhouette with forget is neat) but the whole package works and the energy drives it forward right into the maw of madness and garbled vocals. Excellent.

Acid Turkish Bath (Shelter From The Storm) is a magnificent six minutes of Eastern rhythms, bass that would be well at home on the new Tool album and deliciously evocative vocals. All this after the frantic title track belts through its three minutes. “There’s nothing to it. There’s nothing to it…man”, is the message. The pace is relentless and exhausting. Man Of Simple Pleasures is another high point, with unashamed Gallagher/Ashcroft/Turner lad-rock taking centre stage. This is followed by the electro madness of Switchblade Smiles, a tornado of start-stop swirling vocals, stuttering drums and grinding guitars.

Kasabian are just as effective when the band embrace their own sense of absurdity. Not that they are absurd but a keen ironic eye watches from the safe shadows and often ventures out into the fray to see what is going on. A great example of this is La Fee Verte (The Green Fairy), a Beatles-esque psychedelic trip through a weird life. I Hear Voices has the most elegant 70s synth backdrop as Meighan declares “My soul? You can have it coz it don’t mean shit” before “I’d sell it to the devil for another hit…I wish that you were here”. A simple idea, well executed with just enough retro-kitsch.

Velociraptor! has plenty of surprises. Goodbye Kiss is a pleasant Artic Monkeys ballad filled with intimate observations and heart-warming honesty. This is not what you would expect from Kasabian but it works. Opener Let’s Roll Just Like We Used To adds a bit much into the mix but manages to pull it off. And Neon Noon is a perfectly good closer, gliding through five minutes in ambient controlled style. The only weak spot on Velociraptor! is the woeful Re-wired that fails on many levels. It is one of the only moments of style over substance with all the right ingredients making a huge mess due to under-cooking.

Velociraptor! is not a masterpiece. It is not the best album this year. Nor is it the best Kasabian album. It is (as Meighan puts it) a wonderful jukebox of ideas. In spite of the variation, what makes Velociraptor! work is the consistent focus and control, proof that Kasabian are diverse and eager to challenge themselves from song to song. Great production and a solid mix bring together the ideas. This is, at last, a full-blooded approach that pays off. Melody and stomp happen in equal measure, sound is strong and dense, and what was once one-dimensional now spirals out in many directions. This is an often brilliant and interesting ride.
-- CS

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