There’s a track called ‘Space’ on Kasabian’s new album. Arriving halfway through the record, it’s 49 seconds of tasteful washes of synth, which ebb and flow, building and contracting in a hypnotic movement. It’s the kind of thing you might more readily expect to hear on the Calm app than on the new one from the tub-thumping lad-rockers who barreled in with the rifftastic ‘Club Foot’ back in 2004. “I’d always wanted to do something with the idea of seeing the world from outer space,” principal songwriter Serge Pizzorno has said. “How that changes astronauts’ personalities, because they see this pale blue dot…”
Pizzorno went on to explain that he saw a parallel in the “out of body experience” that Kasabian have weathered since ejecting their frontman Tom Meighan, who left the Leicester band in 2020 after assaulting his partner Vikki Ager. While Kasabian are clearly not the victims in all this, it’s also true that the four-piece – completed by bassist Chris Edwards, drummer Ian Matthews and newcomer Tim Carter on guitar and backing vocals – underwent a profound shift in light of events beyond their control.
Serge, always the chin-stroking auteur to Meighan’s endorphin-inducing rabble-rouser, had to – as he puts it on this album’s ravey ‘SCRVPTURE’ – “reach for the mic as I walk from the shadow”. Kasabian’s future seemed very much in doubt without their former frontman to sell the band’s unique brand of psychedelic party anthems. Pizzorno, though, prepared to take Meighan’s place by studying videos of Iggy Pop whipping up a crowd; think of it as a crash-course in rockstar training. The group’s resulting seventh album, ‘The Alchemist’s Euphoria’, is a whipsmart collection that pings from classic Kasabian piss-up chant-alongs (scything lead single ‘ALYGATYR’; the tellingly titled ‘ROCKET FUEL’) to starry eyed ballads – with, perhaps surprisingly, the emphasis on the latter.
Then again, it’s maybe not that surprising after all, given that Pizzorno already pushed himself forward with exploratory solo project The S.L.P. His self-titled album under that moniker, which featured rappers Little Simz and Slowthai, ached with woozy, bluesy, minimalist comedown tunes. This included one called ‘Lockdown’, which opened with the lyrics “I was on a lockdown, doin’ what I’m told” – given that the album was released in August 2019, seven months before the pandemic hit, you have to wonder if Serge is a prophet as well as an alchemist.
Because, yes, there is a concept of sorts at the heart of this album, with a Serge-like mystic travelling through the record on a voyage of self-discovery. On reflective opening track ‘ALCHEMIST’, which begins with the soothing sound of crashing waves, that figure longingly recalls “a time that we all could believe in”, but ushers in a new era with the demand: “Shut the door on your way if you’re leaving”. The fact that the track shifts from plaintive acoustic guitar to a thumping house beat and swirling synths – and all in the space of about 60 seconds – tells you everything you need to know about the Kasabian 2.0’s eagerness to explore new boundaries.
Later, on the marching ‘STRICTLY OLD SKOOL’, Serge champions those outside-the-box thinkers who can’t be contained by other people’s expectations: “You’re Dr. Dre / You’re Frida and you’re Kurt.” This is followed by a trio of space-inspired songs (introduced by that calming, aforementioned soundscape) that find our sonic alchemist gazing at the stars as he considers the limitless possibilities ahead: melodic fist-clencher ‘THE WALL’, electro doom-monger ‘T.U.E’ and the fittingly titled D’n’B-inspired jam ‘STARGAZR’. The middle tune boasts two of the best moments on the record, as a haunted beat drifts out of the melody like an emergency shuttle detaching from a space station, preceding an abrupt aural shift – into a ‘90s hip-hop-style instrumental – that would make ‘Yeezus’-era Kanye West proud.
Having seen the planet from a whole new angle, with all the realigned perceptions that come along with an out-of-body experience, our central figure arrives at the record’s end point. Folky acoustic jig ‘Letting Go’ twinkles with the magic dust we’ve come to expect from co-producer Fraser T. Smith (who’s worked with Stormzy and shared knob-twiddling duties with Pizzorno), but there’s darkness there too. “Even if your head’s not right, it’ll be alright,” Serge sings softly, “if you just start letting go”, his steely resolve revealing the sense of rebirth at the core of ‘The Alchemist’s Euphoria’.
That last word is important. Kasabian have always been about having a good fucking time, and although this is understandably their most introspective record yet, it does point to euphoria ahead. Back in May, the frontman told NME: “This album was just us saying, ‘Let’s see what we can do – let’s see where we can take this’. On the evidence of this surprising, eclectic and intimate record – which still finds time for the anthems of old – the answer is: as far as they want to.
Release date: August 12
Record label: Sony Music