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Call for Music Critics and Essayists: If you're a smart, historically-minded music critic or essayist, let your voice be heard by our quality readership.

Kasabian: Empire


When they first came on the scene last year in North America, there were very few new live acts that could hold Kasabian’s jock. The group’s sensory overload of lights, sounds, and colors made for a trip even the most sober concert goer couldn’t get enough of. The British (and a lot of North American) press have compared them favorably to Primal Scream, another group who put on one hell of a show. But as it is with every sophomore album, particularly of a band who released a strong debut, it’s almost like opening a Pandora’s Box. You’re eager to see what’s inside, but fearful that the contents might not live up to expectations. The band, led by Sergio Pizzorno, certainly tries not to disappoint. And, for the most part, they don’t.

Although the thick slabs of guitar are found later on, Kasabian teases the listener with a rather odd but effective title track. Think of a very lean Scream-like number influenced by the Killers who just listened to Slade and you get the picture. At least I hope so. It’s not the strongest song here, not by a long shot, but it gets the job done. And halfway through, they just screw with your mind, resorting to a brief collage of sounds Syd Barrett might have imagined during acid trip #2,137. It’s a very good start, but “Shoot the Runner” seems to stumble from this arse-kicking start. Here, the band goes for a lean groove that could have come from Tommy James & the Shondelles. The vocals sound like they’ve been spliced in before they speak about a Queen Bitch and up the oomph ante somewhat. It might be spiced up live, but it loses something on disc.

Nonetheless, what doesn’t stick to Kasabian’s wall is often the exception to decent, well-crafted numbers. Such is the case with the tight, polished and near-perfect “Last Trip (in Flight)”, which sounds like a distant cousin of Primal Scream’s “Shoot Speed Kill Light”. And they are able to take this tune to the next level without it sounding forced or falling off the sonic rails. The group also seems to take a lighter rock approach with some tunes, especially the infectious, poppy “Me Plus One”, which you would think would blow you away with some large, bombastic guitar solo by Pizzorno. Instead, it is content to be on some sort of cruise control, despite some subtle licks by the guitarist.

Fortunately, they get back to basics with “Sun Rise Light Flies” (did I mention “Shoot Speed Kill Light”? Oh I did.). Here, the group sounds like they’ve returned to the formula that worked so well with “L.S.F.”, but have changed a few gears here and there, particularly in the tempo. Some strings are thrown into the mix, along with some airy vocals in the chorus. It’s this experimentation that sometimes throws the whole album a bit out of whack. “Apnoea” is perhaps the first track that sounds like it could have fit perfectly on album number one. It has all the spark, bite, and verve that oozed out of their debut, and sounds like it’s sure to be another crowd pleaser, even with its overt production values.

Of the dozen songs here, perhaps the one that shows just where the band might be heading in the future is “Stuntman”, which starts off with a hard and fast dance beat and then adds keys and a fantastic rhythm section to it that sounds ready for some E-laced rave. The album hits a huge pothole with the back to back padding that is “Seek & Destroy” and the sappy, soppy, and sloppy acoustic ballad “British Legion”, which sounds like it was recorded after one too many nights in such an establishment. It also could be dubbed the “first encore song”, as it has that slow, relaxing feel that doesn’t require much exertion or energy.

By now Kasabian has given you more good songs than bad songs, and wrap the record up with “The Doberman”, that slowly but quite nicely develops some bite. It builds and builds with a retro-tinged hippie feel pulling it along. On the whole, it’s a good second step, but hopefully step three is more in line with the shock and awe the first album contained.

RATING 6 / 10