Album: Kasabian, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum (Columbia)
After the patchy response duly bestowed upon the patchy Empire, Kasabian have wisely made a few changes for this much-improved follow-up.
With the departure of Chris Karloff, songwriting duties are now completely shouldered by guitarist Serge Pizzorno; and, equally importantly, the band have opted to change producers, with indie-rock stalwart Jim Abbiss replaced by the more exploratory-minded Dan the Automator, best known for his work on Gorillaz' Demon Days.
Which is not to say they don't still wield the stadium-rock cudgel with some force when appropriate. "Underdog" opens the album in typically Oasean fashion, with Tom Meighan's bumptious Liam impression borne along by one of Pizzorno's better Noel-esque melodies – better, in fact, than anything Noel's come up with for a while. But the counterpoint harmonies add a touch of lustre, and there's no denying it kick-starts the album smartly. It's dwarfed, though, by the impact of "Where Did All the Love Go?", a Neu!-style motorik groove destined to be one of the anthems of 2009, with Meighan's wheedling vocal contemplating "a time full of fear, full of anger" and wondering "whatever happened to the youth of this generation?". It's a position extended via the big, billowing bass and brusque organ of the single "Vlad the Impaler", where, they claim, "we are the last beatniks alive – heretics". Well, not quite, but full marks for trying, anyway.
Several other Krautrock echoes can be discerned, in the brief Can-like instrumental "Swarfiga" and in "Take Aim", where Pizzorno's various guitars – both the mandolin-style trills and the piercing threads of distortion – recall the late Michael Karoli. Elsewhere there are plenty of similarly exploratory musical gambits, from the odd, Morricone-esque melody and texture of the title track to the brutal, lo-fi charge of "Fast Fuse", which sounds like an out-take from 1960s garage-punk pioneers The Monks. "Secret Alphabets", meanwhile, employs fills of oud-like guitar and strings sampled from Helmut Zacharias over a camel-gait groove, a suitably haunting backdrop for a lyric about Egypt.
A few problems persist, most notably the too-easy recourse to cliché which spoils some songs. There are a few too many attempts to persuade us how "I'm on fire" and "I was born with a fast fuse" and the like, which probably come across well in an echoey arena, but sound a bit too eager on disc, like a dull chap trying to persuade us he's a real wild child. But it's a giant stride beyond Empire nonetheless, and for that we should be thankful.
Download this: 'Where Did All the Love Go?', 'Take Aim', 'Underdog', 'Secret Alphabets', 'Fast Fuse'
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