Black Onassis - Desensitized
Here's an album that has been hotly anticipated by old-skool Kasabian fans, the ones who never quite got over the defection of Chris Karloff soon before the release of the band's second album Empire in 2006. With him went much of the electronic element that had been a key ingredient of their early sound. Seven years later, and now calling NYC home, Karloff (along with Nick Forde on bass and keyboards) returns, stealthily, with Desensitized, bathed in beats and dark electro. One could think this is the album he had always wanted to make.
Those waiting for Kasabian II will be disappointed. While the electronic element is there, the raw face-punching rock and roll that made their 2004 debut such a triumph is not. In fact, it may take a few listens to come to grips with. At first glance it is surprisingly diffident, almost underwhelming. The tunes roll by like a play list at someone's house party. It's when you really give each tune your undivided attention that it all starts to make sense. When you look back at old live videos of Kasabian, you can see that, unlike his two band mates, Karloff seemed to shirk the limelight. Hidden in the shadows, "the man behind the curtain", Karloff kept a low profile while Pizzorno and Meighan lapped up the center stage. And so is it here.
In betwixt some nifty little instrumentals ('Humans:Animals' and 'Minus Humans' in particular stand out) the main numbers all feature a guest vocalist, giving the album a mix-tape kind of feel. The sinister title track, with Stephen Young on vocals, creeps in like a spectre, and Leia Moss of The Duke Spirit sings beautifully on the excellent 'TripB'. Yet the highlight might be the hypnotic 'Brain' (featuring Ben Gautrey of The Cooper Temple Clause): dark, brooding and utterly gorgeous, with lyrics that could have been written about Karloff himself: "I know that you will survive / Now there's an axe to grind / Dust yourself down and smile / God knows it's been a while."
As strong as the album is, one has to wonder at the wisdom of relying on a bevy of guest appearances rather than the anchor-bearing identity of a full-time vocalist. However 'old hat' such a concept may be, it does have the benefit of giving the music a much needed focal point that Black Onassis so far lacks. It will remain to be seen if Karloff has the necessary charisma (or indeed the desire) to be the band's "front man", a task made all the more difficult if someone else is doing the lead vocal duties. Nevertheless Desensitized is an impressive album full of hidden surprises and real delights. It may not be the tour de force fans were waiting for, but it's nice to have him back making music again.