At various points during the past five years, Kasabian have threatened to become the biggest band in the UK. They are proven bestsellers – you don’t get to headline Glastonbury, as they’ve just done, without accruing genuine status – but they have teetered on the precipice of being more than that, breaking out and going supernova. When they supported Oasis in 2009, they were seen as heirs apparent as the Gallaghers finally (finally) imploded (although we all know that the final chapter of that story still has to be enacted).
But it hasn’t quite happened for Kasabian on the grand scale they and others may have envisaged. And, reading between the lines, it has become a source of some frustration that the whole world (or the UK, at least) doesn’t think they are the brilliant innovators the band members themselves clearly think they are. In advance of the release of 48:13, lead vocalist Tom Meighan was (not for the first time) full of bluster, talking about “the best thing we’ve ever done”, etc. etc. The new album is certainly not that – said accolade goes to their splendidly ambitious 2009 rock gem West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum – but where does 48:13 sit?
The abiding impression of 48:13 is that Kasabian have got exasperated with their inability to rise to the next level and have decided to give a bit of a two fingers to all and sundry. This can be the only explanation of an album which, to be frank, overdoses big-time on electronica (sometimes dancey, sometime plain turgid), and gets nowhere near the heights of West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum or its (slightly inferior) successor, 2011’s Velociraptor.
The sixth track, “Treat”, is a prime example of the singe-minded, some would say, stubborn, approach that Kasabian seem to have adopted for most of 48:13. The first 3:30 minutes of this song “treats” us to Meighan endlessly saying that he “works it like a treat” over a repetitive synth riff that repeatedly returns the track to a mundane bathos which feels like it’s been put in the deep freeze and robs proceedings of any passion (the following three minutes of the song then fade out on a likeable, mysterious coda that summons up Midge Ure-era Ultravox; there are more such satisfying moments which doesn’t make the album a write-off, but more of them later).
“Treat” is followed by “Glass”, sung by Kasbian’s musical force and maestro, guitarist and multi-instrumentalist Serge Pizzorno. This track (“Are we made of glass?”) is another in the electronic, slightly cold, almost robotic style which is all over 48:13. When it tries to get interesting with a cameo from spoken word artist Suli Breaks, it fails. Lyrics are not Pizzorno’s forte.
But put all these gripes aside, and there are still things to admire on this album. When Pizzorno breaks out of his synth straitjacket, he reminds us of what a fine songwriter and adventurous musician he can be. The closing two tracks, “Bow” and “S.P.S.”, both have fine, insidious melodies and eschew the remote robotic style for a warmer more anthemic approach. The Spaghetti western guitar touches to the final instrumental (“Levitation”) recall West Ryder’s versatile flourishes. Third track “Stevie” is driven on by a persistent string riff and builds layer on layer to the sort of climax which the best Kasabian tracks often do.
I have a lingering feeling that I could be missing something, and that Kasabian’s Kraftwerk tribute act on 48:13 might the harbinger of greater things to come as they hit electronica paydirt in 2015/16. But, ultimately, the album still feels more like a cul-de-sac. My advice to the band would be to reverse out and get back to the versatile rock/dance approach which was proving increasingly fruitful – and this doesn’t mean stereotypical Oasis lads-rock, by the way. There’s still time for Kasabian to be the band they think they are.