Album review: Kasabian – ‘West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum’

Psychedelia and acid trips mark a multi-coloured yet unexpectedly risky return

Oasis. Lad rock. There, three words in and that’s the phrases obligatory to all Kasabian reviews out of the way. Good. Now we can move on, because they certainly have. Did you see last week’s NME cover? Does that look like a band to be adored solely by Stella-swigging football hooligans? If you haven’t already, go watch the Noel Fielding-starring video to ‘Vlad The Impaler’. In fact, listen to ‘Vlad The Impaler’ or just consider the title ‘Vlad The Impaler’. Hardly ‘Club Foot Part 15’, is it? Sounding more like Animal Collective than The La’s, in these times when one wrong move is seeing bands of Kasabian’s stature sink like stones, it seemed a brave comeback.

Then came that album title. And then that cover. A couple of incendiary secret(-ish) gigs. And then ‘Fire’ – some might say a more orthodox Kasabian single, but still one that contains two time-signature changes, features what could easily be described as “a camp disco bit” and reveals itself after two or three listens to be the most infectious thing they’ve ever done. Point is, all of these moves have resulted in Kasabian, love ’em or loathe ’em, achieving what so many other bands have failed to do: they’ve created a prolonged sense of excitement around the release of their third album. Fast-forward to August of this year, following a series of sure-to-be ecstatic outside sets warming up for Oasis and Bruce Fucking Springsteen at Glasto and everyone will still be talking about them – and just starting to realise how amazing ‘West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum’ really is.

See, first time NME heard this record, it felt disjointed, not-in-a-good-way messy and drowned by over-egged production. But that was then. Now, after repeated listens, the minute the opening strains of ‘Underdog’ begin, it feels triumphant. But it takes time to get your head around. Said song, initially featured in an advert starring Brazilian footballer Kaká (yeah, alright, alright) may employ a familiar swaggering pace, but its jagged riff, synth breakdowns and Tom’s talk of “coloured paint splattered on the wall” are all over the shop. And this is as orthodox as Kasabian’s third album will get.


By the time you’ve got through the eastern strings of ‘Where Did All The Love Go?’ (“Whatever happened to the youth of this generation?”), a brief krautrock curio entitled ‘Swarfiga’ and the best thing they’ve ever, ever, EVER done in the shape of the raunchy Primal Scream-circa-‘XTRMNTR’ electronic garage of ‘Fast Fuse’, they’ve gone through more twists and turns than bands perceived as being far more adventurous than they are will go through in their entire careers.

The talk of this album, not least by Kasabian, is that it is a psychedelic conceptual piece in the vein of The Pretty Things’ ‘SF Sorrow’. But while that record flows effortlessly, linked by narrative, ‘West Ryder…’ does the opposite. To summarise: following the opening quartet, there is the Serge-sung hip-hop shuffle of ‘Take Aim’ (where producer Dan The Automator’s presence is most heavily felt), then a pair of whimsical Kinksian dum-de-dum-de-dum-ers called ‘Thick As Thieves’ and ‘West Ryder/Silver Bullet’ (the latter featuring actress Rosario Dawson), then a slightly re-jigged ‘Vlad…’. Then an almost-power-ballad in the shape of ‘Ladies And Gentlemen (Roll The Dice)’ and ‘Secret Alphabets’ (which sounds like an outtake from David Axelrod-as-the-Electric-Prunes’ lost masterpiece ‘Release Of An Oath’); then ‘Fire’, before it all ends with Serge doing his best gospel choir-assisted Sterling Morrison impression.

There is no thread, but while that at first feels to the record’s detriment, ultimately it is its biggest strength. In fact, if you were to make a comparison to a ’60s acid record, you’d be looking more to the Stones’ ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’ than The Beatles’ ‘Sgt Pepper’s…’. This is absolutely NOT an insult. Contrary to what accepted rock bore historians will tell you, the former album is a far truer representation of the LSD experience: a shambling, splattered, ultimately much more enduring mess that will make sense if you just hang on in there. Plus, rock’n’roll – especially psychedelic rock’n’roll – isn’t supposed to be tidy and fucking ordered, is it?

In these times of – yawn – music industry crisis, a lesser band would have bashed out 12 ‘LSF’s, worn cagoules on the cover and prayed people still cared. Alone, the fact Kasabian have done the exact opposite is to be commended, and shows that they genuinely couldn’t give a monkeys about what people think of them. You might fear that, in 2009, the mainstream music fans who buy a not-insignificant portion of Kasabian tickets are not really in the habit of persevering with albums, so it may all backfire, but fuck it, that’s their loss. Now just don’t let it be yours.

Hamish MacBain

[I]DOWNLOAD: 1) ‘Underdog’ 2) ‘Fast Fuse’ 3) ‘Secret Alphabets’[/I]

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