Kasabian - Velociraptor!
Kasabian used to be a joke: “a poor man’s Oasis”, “laddish louts”; mouthy, arrogant, possessing a self-belief in their greatness before their 2004 debut album Kasabian was even a week old. The critics took turns tearing them to pieces, ridiculing them, passing them off as a flash in the pan that would be dead in the water within twelve months.
Only they didn’t go away. Their second album, 2006’s Empire went straight to number one. Still the music critics scoffed. Only when West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum was released in 2009 did the magazines begin to lavish them with praise. The album even got the ultimate nod by earning a Mercury Award nomination. At long last the critics finally understood what the die-hard fans knew all along: Kasabian were here to stay.
The Oasis comparisons were always perplexing: OK, there was the gobbiness, the swagger, the boyish bad behaviour. They, like Oasis, were a punter’s band, a band for the masses. Not brainy and intellectual like their other musical heroes Radiohead, Kasabian went for the jugular. You could sing, shout, scream along to their songs. Yet the resemblance ended there. Unlike Noel and the boys Kasabian never stayed in one place, never repeated themselves. After the electro-fused trippy mayhem of the eponymous debut they went for 70s glam and Parisian decadence for Empire and then conceptual, beautiful psychedelic madness for WRPLA. And all the while they did what many other bands, who desperately try to reinvent themselves, fail miserably at: they remained Kasabian.
Velociraptor! will take you by surprise in many ways. Firstly, it doesn’t start with a brain-crushing opener as with the previous efforts. This is the fourth album and, if you’ve lasted this long, then Kasabian judge that you are ready for a few curveballs. ‘Let’s Roll Just Like We Used To’ is Serge’s “love letter” to his drug-fuelled days at the farmhouse he shared with the rest of the band during the recording of the first album. The song is pure 60s retro with a trumpet intro straight out of Ennio Morricone’s Ecstasy For Gold: “They’re at it again / Let’s roll just like we used to / It’s when we were young / Our hearts got lost in the circles / We had it all.”
Kasabian wear their musical hearts on their sleeves: Primal Scream, Can, Silver Apples, The Stones, Blackalicious, The Beatles. The difference is they never impersonate. Like all clever thieves they steal the car then re-paint it in their own colours, change the hubcaps, soup up the engine and make the baby their own. ‘Days Are Forgotten’, with its Comanachi wail at the start, has its roots in hip hop and rap then morphs into a singalong chorus that will make the arena walls shake. Here the band look their critics in the eyes and defy them to call their bluff, knowing full well that they hold all the cards: “You say I’m old hat / A fucking dirty rat / Call me a cliche / How right you are.” ‘Goodbye Kiss’ is a luscious, scrumptious heartbreak song. It could possibly be the bravest thing they've ever done. No big choruses, no swagger, it is unabashedly nostalgic and apologetically romantic.
The enigmatic 'La Fee Verte', named after a brand of absinthe, is a Sergeant Pepper-esque hallucinogenic daydream all about hitting the hard stuff maybe a bit too much: “Oh Green Fairy what you’ve done to me / I see Lucy In the Sky / Telling me I’m high / I went out for milk three days ago.” Pizzorno’s dreamy vocals float along with the deceptively jaunty carnival-like music. The tempo is upbeat, but the circus lights are too bright and the clowns’ make-up garish and menacing. The disjointed beats that end the song speak of the heaviest of comedowns.
Though the album was described by the band as the ultimate jukebox record, it actually feels more than that. A jukebox, no matter how good it is, is made up of randomly assembled tunes. This album feels more complete. While perhaps not as conceptual as WRPLA, there is a definite golden thread woven amongst the songs holding them all in sync, even with two songs so seemingly dissimilar as pop-rock nugget ‘Velociraptor!’ and the magnificence of ‘Acid Turkish Bath (Shelter From The Storm)' with its Middle Eastern influences, already felt in ‘La Fee Verte’ and West Ryder's ‘Secret Alphabets’: “Sending the boys away / Leaving them out to play / Throwing them miles away / Wishing for New Year’s Day.” Pizzorno’s plaintive whine is shadowed by Tom Meighan’s meatier vocals, giving the song a substance and weight while the violins and cellos threaten to send it soaring heavenward. ‘I Hear Voices’ harkens back to the first album with its beats, synths and Meighan’s wonderfully evocative voice, yet there is a desolation, a weariness not felt on the heady abandon of their debut. This is a song born of long nights and bleak days that come from too many mistakes and not enough common sense: “My soul, you can have it cos it don’t mean shit / I’d sell it to the devil for another hit / I hear voices / They tell me to stop.” Though the band may be glancing wistfully behind them at their past, they none-the-less are striding steadfastly forward.
Future single ‘Rewired’ has a funky rhythm that is teamed up beautifully to Meighan’s defiant vocals calling out “Hit me harder / I’m getting rewired”. The gobby guttersnipes are still here, brazenly asserting their superiority. Then it is the cinematic ‘A Man of Simple Pleasures’. If Morricone wrote three minute pop tunes it would be this. Lavish and epic yet with a heart and soul the band are not given enough credit for possessing.
The album ends with two vastly different tracks, yet they are two sides of the same coin. As with ‘Days Are Forgotten’, there is a strong hip hop vibe in the sinister ‘Switchblade Smiles’. Meighan spits out the lyrics as the music’s momentum builds behind him. The refrain “can you feel it coming?” feels as much a challenge as a question. As with the previous albums Kasabian then leave us with a quiet wave goodbye. ‘Neon Noon’, like ‘Happiness’ from West Ryder is gentle and dreamy. With electronic beats bubbling away under the soft melody, Pizzorno sings with a sort of hazy nonchalance, the ringmaster bringing this dizzy, hedonistic circus to a close.
The fans always knew they were great. The band always knew they were great. The youthful boasting that the critics shook their heads at has all come true. With each album Kasabian showed the music world they were indeed a force to be reckoned with. If the journos were convinced with WRPLA they will be ever more so now. Velociraptor! not only fulfills all the assertions the band have been making about their “classic rock album” but surpasses it. This may be the benchmark against which all modern rock albums are measured.