sabian are bonkers. There’s no two ways about it – they’re insane. I heard them first when I picked up, on a whim, a promo of “Reason Is Treason” on a whim at a record store on Berwick Street. I’d never heard of them, but the packaging was intriguing – wrapped in brown paper with a stamp and a sticker on it – and it was a pound. Why not? I put it in the store player, and was so utterly blown away, I went straight back to the singles/promos section and scoured it for another release by this amazing band. The velocity of the song, the attack of it – like all the best bits of Primal Scream’s XTRMNTR wrapped in nonchalant cool and danger (“K.I.L.L.!!”) of a gang I wanted to join. I was an immediate fan.
In 2004, Kasabian was the whole package – named for a member of the Manson family, a gonzo (and mostly untrue) backstory (they found their lead singer – a homeless psychotic – busking), dead cool image, and amazing promotional nous – including hand-made, ultra-limited promo cds and 10”s wrapped in posters and flags, d.i.y. stencils for you to graffiti their symbol on walls, and fake tube signs for you to print out and post in your neighborhood. Genius. And the songs. Oh, the songs.
In total, they released more than 25 unique songs in the space of one year, jumping more trains than any of their “NME class of 2004” contemporaries. The debut album was the picture of perfection, with its mixture of baggy beats and aggression, beautiful interludes and intriguing sounds, packed with five singles – though they could have released another two or three album tracks (“Test Transmission” is the standout single that never was) and a bside or two (listen to the Thom Yorke-solo-anticipating “Trash Can” from Club Foot or majestic beauty of “Lab Twat” from L.S.F. or the out-Richard Ashcroft-ing “Beneficial Herbs” from Cutt Off). And live? I liked them so much in DC, I followed them to Philly. Only Sigur Rós ever merited that accolade in my book.
Their 2006 follow up, Empire, was exactly as rushed and devoid of ideas as the debut was unhurried and packed with them. I would put it down to the loss of one of the founding members and songwriters, Christopher Karloff, and the speed with which the second album was released. My interest waned rapidly, and I couldn’t even be bothered to buy any more of their “limited” 10” promo singles. My fickle love had moved on.
They came back with West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum in 2009, and my interest flickered briefly with the news that the Mighty Boosh’s Noel Fielding was in their latest video:
Truth be told, I’d watch a video of Fielding tying his shoes, so his demented ramble killing spree through the English countryside raised a smile – but not the song, the shouty and pointless “Vlad the Impaler.”
So, with some trepidation, I heard they’d come out with a new album, and volunteered to review it. Kasabian had (predictably) gotten a lot of ink from the NME, and there is something dementedly wonderful about titling your new album “Velociraptor!” complete with an exclamation point. Still, is it a return to form, or a further bottle of past the sell-by date milk?
From the first notes of the title track, it sounds like a brilliant return to form. When my best friend pulled it out during our DJ night (The Singles Club, at DC9, if you’re interested), I found myself dancing like a madman, entranced by the propulsive, irresistible hooks strewn throughout its 2:52 length. It starts right off with Tom Meighan shouting, “Blast off!” only seconds before the addictive chorus kicks in with the delicious “That’s Not My Name” melody and lyrics like, “he’s gonna find ya, he’s gonna eat ya, you’re on the outskirts, of his kingdom, so keep your head down, veloci-velocirap-tuh!” Earned the exclamation point, right in the title track. Well done.
So, the title track is a brilliant bit of sunny adrenaline-flecked pop, but how does the rest of it hold up? Oddly, the first single wasn’t the title track, but the “Club Foot” echoing “Switchblade Smiles.” The track starts with a lengthy instrumental build, and then switches between aggression and swooning luxuriant breakdowns, akin to an UNKLE track, and has me sold. But let’s get back to the start.
The album itself is a curious affair, and, as one would expect, spans a number of genres effortlessly. The opener introduces one of the sonic themes of the record, giving us spaghetti western guitar, backing vocals, and horn flourishes before Tom’s vocals cut in to deliver the message. “Let’s Roll Just Like We Used to” isn’t harkening back to Kasabian’s past, but a deeper musical past, and, as such, is wholly unexpected. I’m quite enjoying this. “Days Are Forgotten” continues the theme with a 60s beat, and spooky backing vocals before the full song kicks in. And then things get weird.
“Goodbye Kiss” is as gentle, winsome, and lovely a summer melody as you’d ever want to hear, sounding like Kasabian fronting a Camera Obscura tune, complete with swooning string section. Never have they done something as straightforward, and, dare I say it, lovely than this. And coming after the opening section, it’s a head-turning transition. From there, they dip into psychedelia, with “La Fee Verte.” It is, as you’d expect from the title (the French nickname for absinthe), a psychedelic ramble through guitarist and occasional vocalist Sergio Pizzorno’s imagination. The Spanish horn section from the album’s opening returns, adding to the air that this could be a Beta Band track, albeit with a Liam Gallagher impersonator singing. It ends with drowning vocals over spooky keyboards, lulling you to sleep before bleeding into the cattle-prod of electricity from the album’s title track. That’s sequencing for you! Just when you’re nodding off – WHAM! “VELOCIRAPTOR!”
The title track is bookended by “Acid Turkish Bath (Shelter from the Storm),” which is pretty much what you’d expect from the title – a six-minute acid trip through 60s psychedelia – is this Kasabian? It’s good, but really, really odd. “I Hear Voices” is next, changing genres 180 degrees, with a hard pinging electro beat and Tom singing about ignoring the voices in his head, before delivering this couplet: “My soul – you can have, because it doesn’t mean shit, I’d sell it to the devil, for another hit.” Depressing sentiments, but a compelling hook of a song.
The next couple songs pass by pleasantly enough before the first single from the album, “Switchblade Smiles,” cuts things up. The album abruptly shifts into a landing pattern, with the beautiful, winsome “Neon Noon” pleasantly and pleasingly letting us off from the turbulence of what came before it.
In all, I don’t know what to say. I’m going to buy it, but I have no idea who to recommend it to – though, I daresay, if you love Britpop, this goes on the shelf along the best of the continuing practitioners. It’s a grab bag of styles and moods, but really, you could do worse than make an album with only one or two songs that are forgettable amongst five or six moments of pure genius. I just have to hear that title track again. VELOCI-VELOCIRAP-TUH!!