As a young lad I grew up worshipping dinosaurs and the very ground they stomped on and just recently, I’m delighted to say, I’ve been revelling in a giddy trip of childhood rediscovery. This past month has seen Jurassic Park come roaring back to the cinemas, the BBC unveil Planet Dinosaur, a show all about the newest discoveries from the prehistoric age, and then Kasabian – apparently sensing this would be the ideal time to exploit my hankerings for all things carnivorous – released their 4th album, Velociraptor!
Of course, there’s not much dino-substance to this album beyond the gimmicky name and that bemusing track that shouts “VELOCER… VELOCIRAPTOR!”, but still, the title alone played on my boyhood passions just nicely.
They’ve always struck me as a bunch of cheeky chappys, the Kasabian boys. I mean what joshers, naming their album after a little feathered dinosaur the size of an over-grown turkey and then unabashedly slapping an exclamation mark on the end for good measure. I admire the jokey way these guys never take themselves seriously when, after all is said and done, they’ve confined themselves to working within the rather tired, limiting and incredibly self-serious genre, British Ladrock.
You know what I mean by ladrock: mindless guitar-chord bashing, Stella-fuelled aggression, horrid karaoke hollerings of Wonderwall. Oasis have been the pompous trailblazers of this particular trend for the past decade and a half, but the likes of The Enemy, The Twang and Kasabian have been striving, for better or for worse, to keep this chauvinistic phenomenon relevant for the masses, whilst the soap opera that is The Gallagher Brothers gradually lost all appeal and they disappeared up their own arses.
Kasabian pander to the ladrock massives around the country, both in attitude and in the musical heritage they draw their influences from. They talk the ladrock talk, spouting out to anyone bothered to listen that this album is going to be “massive” and “change people’s lives”. And their music is predictably indebted to British guitar music through the decades; chiefly The Beatles and Kinks era of the psychedelic 60s and the chant-heavy, riff-laden Brit-pop craze of the mid-90s. All these elements have been integral to the Kasabian image up to this point, meaning that they easily retain the ready-made audience of Oasis fans seeking new cocky role models, and yet inevitably continue to alienate listeners living across the Atlantic, who have never quite got the appeal of this genre loaded with a very British, chav-oriented arrogance.
But what has kept Kasabian interesting is that they have always been more than a one-trick pony. With each new album they have demonstrated a determination to break out of the constricting parameters of ladrock, working commendably hard to push themselves into new, unexplored regions, by taking risks to evolve their sound and test the expectations of their established audience, whilst also luring in a new one. Not a straight-forward task by any means – and despite the generally enthusiastic reception for Velociraptor!, the most positive reviews are still from the British press – so the fact that most of their experiments actually come off deserves hearty congratulations.
They won many new fans with their marvellously deranged last album, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum. You see, this is what I love about these guys; they wear their eccentricities on their sleeves. Songs like Vlad The Impaler and Fire flaunt the usual Ladrock wares and yet head off down totally disparate alleyways from the slightly unsure, glammed-up forays of previous album Empire.
And I get the sense that the band are loving every minute of it. Compared with the painful desperation of the ever-bickering Gallagher brothers to be the 21st century Beatles, Kasabian seem content to have fun and just, well, be Kasabian… in as many different guises as possible.
Their mischievous personalities – and especially that of song-writer Serge Pizzorno – come popping out at you throughout Velociraptor!, an album that oozes confidence in the quirkiness of their own behaviour and plays up to it as much as possible. It’s in evidence from the shimmering gong smash that opens the album, the garbled babblings that close Days Are Forgotten and the weird psychotic vocal ramblings in the bridge of Switchblade Smiles.
Like all Kasabian albums, it starts strongly, with a trio of songs that amply show off their various strengths. Let’s Roll Just Like We Used To is an understated opener in many ways, given that they’ve begun albums with the likes of Club Foot and Underdog in the past. It subtly recalls Richard Ashcroft’s Song For The Lovers in its chorus and manages to work all manner of strings and horns into the mix without ever feeling like they’re overdoing it. Next comes the brilliant Days Are Forgotten. With its primal Tarzan-like wailing and chugging riff, this is Kasabian in their element; Tom Meighan ranting out the verses in typically boisterous fashion, before rippling guitars underlay the perfectly nailed chorus. Then we quickly switch into acoustic ballad territory with Goodbye Kiss. I was initially put off by Meighan’s attempts at actually singing a song rather than shouting but, the truth is, this is one well-crafted track, gathering pace through swelling strings and Pizzorno’s timely backing-vocal interjections.
La Fee Verte makes me uncomfortable because it’s the most blatant Beatles homage on here, directly referencing Lucy In The Sky and sounding very reminiscent to that song in its laid-back beat. It provokes unwelcome reminders of Oasis and Beady Eye efforts to ape The Beatles… and yet, against all odds, it’s strangely winning me over. (As a sidenote, I have a major beef with antagonistically-inclined modern-day bands trying to pull off the acid psychedelia of the 60s, mainly because their aggressive attitudes are completely divorced from the goodwill sentiments that brought about the mood of music they’re trying to imitate. When Liam Gallagher sings ‘Let There Be Love’ it’s not him trying to liberate and unite his listeners; it’s just Liam Gallagher wanting to be this generation’s John Lennon. And he would probably punch you in the face if you dared to disagree. I don’t detect this cringing self-importance in Kasabian.)
There are Eastern sounds woven into this album too, just to tick another Beatles box. Prime example of this is the baffling Acid Turkish Bath, which comes across as a bizarre crossover between themselves, Kula Shaker and the strenuous ascending riffs of Led Zeppelin’s Kashmir. I kid you not.
Kasabian are also developing a habit of holding a killer tune back until the penultimate track. Fire was that song on their last album, this time it’s Switchblade Smiles; a song I wasn’t too keen on when I heard it in isolation a few months back, but springs out at me to glorious effect at the back end of the album. The first minute is fantastic, with droning electronics building up to a deep, throaty riff; my favourite riff on here. And it all ends majestically with Neon Noon, a mellow closer and another song that showcases the ever more impressive song-writing talents of Pizzorno.
With Velociraptor! Kasabian continue to prove themselves an unpredictable force working within a very predictable genre. They will undoubtedly still be pigeon-holed with the likes of Oasis by those who simply cannot warm to the ladrock aspects that underpin their sound. And can I understand that. But Oasis, the dominant, lumbering tyrannosaur of ladrock are now extinct. And, I’ve got news for you ladrock lovers: The Gallagher brothers have been nothing but crumbling fossils for the best part of 15 years. Kasabian, with Velociraptor!, are the rightful kings of the ladrock landscape now. An ever-adapting brute, they will endure as long as they retain their wilful enthusiasm to keep scampering energetically off into pastures new. It’s been a pleasure keeping up with their clawed footprints so far.
Ch-Check It Out If You’re Partial To – ladrock, but you’re sick to death of Liam’s whiny, raspy drawl; references to The Beatles, and the legacy of British rock music in general; manic wailing; a band still in their element after 4 albums and playing to their strengths; inexplicable chantings of dinosaur species; drinking Stella
Fantastic Track – Days Are Forgotten