Kasabian has been stereotyped ever since they arrived in 2005 with the anthem that was “Club Foot”. Oasis latched onto the Leeds quintet as potential successors in betwixt verbally accosting every other band under the sun, including Bloc Party (a band off university challenge) and Keane (shit). Kasabian embraced this challenge, not wanting to preempt any success that they might find.
Five years later, they return with their third album proper, the ludicrously titled West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum (a local lunatic asylum, for those interested). In case the title didnt give things away, its a concept album. Still not convinced? Take a closer look at the art work — it’s clear to see how far they have come.
Cut to the chase, is this really a concept album? In direct comparison with examples including David Bowies The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders From Mars and Green Days American Idiot, the answer is a resounding “no”. Its hard to perceive any unified theme that spreads across the whole album, and the bands comments dont strengthen the case: “There’s a couple of songs that kind of went Stones and there’s definitely one song that sounds like Daft Punk and The Clash together.
As implied, there are a number of interesting directions followed, but here they seem incapable of keeping focused long enough to produce a truly cohesive record although thats not to say that there arent triumphs. “Underdog” opens things up, immediately showcasing some harsher production from Dan The Automator (of Gorillaz fame). The sound is less clean, largely due to the addition of some crunching bass lines. Tom Meighans cocksure delivery is welcome: “Life in technicolour, sprayed out of walls/Ive been pounding at the pavement /till theres nothing at all/I got my cloak and dagger at the bar-room brawl ”
Surely to be a single, “Fast Fuse” fuses relentless picking and textbook energy. Though in a complete turnaround, “Take Aim” is a huge departure, and an interesting one at that, as strings and brass make up the most musically impressive track on the album (and probably to date). The production is excellent, book-ending the core of the track with slow, lilted brass. Shortly after, the album begins to deliver on its promise by trading in Meighans bravado for Serge Pizzornos delicate drawl. “Thick As Thieves” brings the Mariachi and Wild West influences to the fore, a ballad at heart.
Kasabians commercial hits all share a common theme of infectious rhythm and potent braggadocio choruses: “Shoot the runner, Im the King and shes my Queen”. This principle holds true. “Fire” – the lead single – isnt at all removed from their original work. In another unexpected turn, “Vlad The Impaler” is a raucous, intense mission statement (“Listen up all you masqueraders- now we have the floor”) that sneaks up and batters down the door with its audacious vocals and huge melodies, cramming in an organ and multiple breakdowns into a five minute whirlwind. A clear reminder that they still have shock value.
Shocking or not, this album is littered with troubles. For absolute proof of this, we need to look no further than album closer “Happiness”, which features tired vocals and an overblown backing gospel choir. Despite its heightened intentions, its a subdued closer, fizzling out without ever really making a clear mark, and not representative of their effort.
Sonically, West Rider Pauper Lunatic Asylum is far and away the band’s most diverse album to date. The high spots largely come in the form of their usual fast paced stadium anthems, but the general direction tends to lean toward more mellow, subdued work. Their bravery is admirable, and they come ever so close to fulfilling the promise of this album. Unfortunately, each and every time they hinder themselves, by pandering to what they believe they should sound like, as opposed to following their own path. Regardless, they have certainly outgrown the perpetual lad-rock title that haunts them. The time of anthems is past them. One wonders what the Gallagher brothers would say now. “Keep it simple next time around, boyos…”? Probably not.