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Kasabian - Kasabian Print E-mail
Tuesday, 08 March 2005


format: 16-bit Stereo CD
label: RCA Records
release year: 2005
performance: 8
sound 7
reviewed by: Charles Andrews

Image Ho hum, wake me when it’s over, it’s another British Invasion, what, #7, 8, 42? Every time a couple of U.K. bands get a couple of U.K. critics excited and a couple of American scribes join the hysteria, we’re told it’s a new BI, that there are all these absolutely fantastic groundbreaking groups, usually mostly from one depressed industrial English backwater, just waiting to come to the USofA to blow your socks off with the next new boffo direction of rock and roll you never dreamed of. Tell me, how many of them in the last 20 years put out more than two albums before sinking like the stone roses they were? How many that were trumpeted as the new saviors of rock can you still name? How many Oasis albums in your collection? (And the Brits still consider them huge.)

We Yanks owe a big debt to our former colonizers for seeing the value in American music that we overlooked and recycling it into something wonderful. And there are always a boatload of our contemporary musicians that England and the rest of the world adores. But there has also always been this difference in taste between our two countries speaking (more or less) the same language that results in these short-circuited music invasions. We don’t get the Gallagher boys, and they never laughed at Johnny Carson. We’re even. And frankly, I enjoyed the recent Swedish invasion more.

This it always makes me extremely skeptical before I run out to spend my shillings on England’s next big thing. The Kaiser Chiefs are one that’s gotten great press lately, but after I saw them on three different TV talk shows in one week, performing the same song (“I Predict a Riot”) – whose genius idea was that? – I was bored silly, seen enough, thanks. I’ve heard Razorlight, Keane, Bloc Party, The Futureheads, Snow Patrol, Maximo Park – no glimmers anywhere. The Kills might be okay. Remember eight months ago, when the Scissor Sisters were going to rule the world? See my review in the archives on that one.

But with each invasion comes at least a band or two that is worthwhile, even if they don’t go mega-platinum in America. Franz Ferdinand (another archived review) are one (their sales weren’t too shabby, either), and now I’ve also got Kasabian and their eponymous album to love (though the name, connected to the Manson murders, is a little off-putting).

They assemble diverse elements uniquely and beautifully. They rock as hard as you could want (though often in mid-tempos), with only minimal dependence on guitars. They’re high-tech and low-fi, sometimes at the same moment, they’ll rip off a burning guitar riff then strum something that sounds like it’s been in the attic for 50 years and the strings are still loose and dusty, they’re a 21st Century band whose music shows they’ve absorbed everything since the ‘50s (but they seem to have a special affection for bands of the first British Invasion, and their ‘80s progeny).

They have brilliant arrangements, which is crucial, but mainly they have great songs, and that’s where you live or die. They were all written by Christopher Karloff and Sergio Pizzorno, who also play guitars and synthesizers, which would seem then to be 90 percent of the band, but the singing of Tom Meighan is perhaps what really makes them what they are. He’s one of those perfect vocal matches to the music that lifts it to another level, like what Bono does for U2. His sound reminds me eerily of a gifted Irish rock singer named Mark Leddy, now an L.A. club owner, whose killer band The Cage never made their mark here. Guess they were in-between invasions.

The album leads off with half a minute of eerie synth before hitting you with some signature steamroller rock, with Meighan stepping out forcefully from the top, shoving his credentials in your face. Synth fights guitar for the lead in “Club Foot,” a great song, with electronic pulses buried in the mix, and as it drifts easily from propulsive rock to dreamy psychedelia, you have a pretty good idea of what this band is about. “ID” goes further with a minute and a half of electronic atmosphere before some low-key cymbal beats turn it into an anguished rocker. “Cutt Off” goes all over the place in nearly five minutes, alternating true trippy psychedelics with minimalist indie rock beats with AWB horn (synth) riffs, wrapped around a funny little tale. Their lyrics are a little bewildering at times. I think you had to be there, sharing the right drugs, to understand "Just cancel the chickens/And tell your son he should steal the gold, " from “Test Transmission, which along with “LSF” are two other absolutely outstanding cuts that have me wondering just what decade these songs are from.

Each time I played the album, I’d sort of notice a little passage that reminded me of an outtake from the “A Clockwork Orange” soundtrack. Then I finally noticed a listing for a 46-second cut titled “Orange.” “Pinch Roller” is another 1:15 of pure synth, and while the second to last song, “Ovary Stripe,” credits Pizzorno with backing vocals, it’s really another instrumental, nearly four minutes long. Yes, I know, there are lots of long instrumental passages in most of the other songs, too, and I’m usually no big fan of guitarless, drumless, bassless music, but I’m telling you, these guys rock, they’re smart, they’re musically informed. Speaking of bass, Chris Edwards does a fine job and rounds out the quartet, and Kasabian seems to make do with rotating drummers.

The last cut, “U Boat,” lists at almost 11 minutes long, but after the first four minutes, it lapses into a full three minutes of silence – will somebody please explain this trend to me? – before going into a re-do of “Reason is Treason” (cut #3), which is my favorite song of the year, a classic sing-along, with irresistible tempo and lyrics that make no sense and the best kind of rock and roll repetition. These guys get it.

Kasabian’s sound is so tied into their identity and value as a rock and roll entity that most of it got covered above, in the body of the review. The vocals vary in their placement in the mix, sometimes muted, muffled, echoed, reverbed, but always intelligible. They’re expert in their use of synthesizers. I’ve never heard anyone with a better understanding of the full range of possibilities. There’s usually a lot going on sonically, and it’s usually kind of muddy, but every part is perfectly balanced. Kasabian is an album experience where the production is almost the star of the show.

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