Twenty-years of dance-inflected British rock, surveyed through the eyes and ears of, erm, 'Kasabian'.
What if you'd never heard of The Stone Roses? What if you were oblivious to the last 20 years of British music history, and say, The Verve and Primal Scream, Oasis and the Mondays had all slipped by you in your airless, muted vacuum? How might Kasabian strike you then?
I'd be curious to know, because frankly, I can't imagine.
Kasabian's self-titled debut possesses great swagger and numerous irresistible riffs, presenting itself with both barrels loaded to blast you with its punchy power pop. Perhaps this should be enough for a debut? Possibly, yet for me it won't have delivered the goods until it's followed by something that carves out a more unique identity of its own. Of their more obvious antecedents, Oasis offer a cautionary tale rather than a role-model -- although at this early stage it's questionable whether Kasabian recognize it as such. Definitely Maybe was a similarly bold debut, likewise studded with bright, shiny borrowed jewels... and look where that got us. (What's the Story) Morning Glory? may have been a vivid cultural snapshot, but it wasn't a great album. Little that Oasis recorded afterwards lived up to that first record's potential, and all the bold press served only to obscure how little original talent stood at the band's core.
Happily, Kasabian's music takes more from The Stone Roses than Oasis. The Roses were a brief flaming meteorite, but their own debut is worth more than the entire Gallagher catalogue put together. What's most surprising in this particular instance is that Kasabian prefer to borrow from later, less well-regarded Roses (Second Coming, for all its flaws, is a vastly under-rated album; probably a story for another day, but this release might widely provoke the discussion). The album opener "Club Foot" sounds like "Breaking Into Heaven" as anchored by the anarchic vocal talent of Shaun Ryder. It's a swirling, driving song that sets the stage for an onslaught of lad/gang mentality. It's music that's awash in masculinity, pervasive in outlaw spirit, and doubtless it's this heady rock brew that has the critics back in Blighty anointing them as new heirs to the throne.
There are any number of tracks here to be cast as singles, although certainly the album is front-heavy, both in quality and reference points. "Reason Is Treason" tips its hat at Primal Scream, while Tom Meighan's vocals on "I.D." bear the imprint of Richard Ashcroft. Drawing parallels between bands can be both easy and lazy criticism, yet in this case, the derivations are so glaring and consistent, the album wearing its influences so brazenly on its drum-kit, that I believe myself justified. In fact, it's impossible to hear these songs without being made aware of their influences. "L.S.F. (Lost Souls Forever)" marks the point at which the album turns. It's the most original track on the album, and also its signature piece. Delivered with a bravura nonchalance and crafted around an inspired hook, its hallucinogenic lyrics nominally portray music as an opium for the masses, whilst simultaneously acting as a call to arms -- "Ahhh. Oh come on!/ We've got our backs to the walls"' It's a great pop/rock single, and if the title echoes Happy Monday's "W.F.L. (Wrote For Luck)", then I've no doubt it inspires a similar enthusiasm played live.
Thus far in their career, much has been made of Kasabian's attempts to blend electronic sounds within those of a more conventional rock outfit (just as another cited Mancunian influence, Doves, aspired to before them). More presciently, integrating dance beats with rock is what baggy-era "Madchester" was all about. Yet for all that, I'm not fully convinced that the attempts here are always successful. At times the band doesn't seem to have fully integrated it into their sound; the two elements often come off as separate entities.
What dominates the album is the bass. Chris Edwards and Christopher Karloff trade bass and lead guitar throughout, the simple fact of which blew me away. Previously I'd imagined Kasabian's bassist paying ardent attention to "The Collected Works of Mani", but instead found two different players performing duties on the album (significantly, The Stone Roses and Primal Scream, the two most obvious influences on Kasabian, share Mani on bass as their main common denominator). But one player or two, bass is the driving force on this album, wholly responsible for propelling the album to its more adrenalin rushed heights.
So much for the music potential of Kasabian then: what about the band's style and personality? I mention this only because my review copy of the album arrived with a weighty promotional package, one I studiously avoided until I'd become properly acquainted with the album itself. I'm glad that I did, because most everything I found within dispirited me. For example, an already dubious and clunky group name became even more intolerable when I discovered the name's origin: Linda Kasabian was, apparently, "the pregnant getaway driver for Charles Manson". Quite what significance this should hold for a band is beyond me, though I'd presume it relates somehow to outlaw status (rather than an admiration for child-bearing women, for example).
I read a multitude of band quotes too, lines which throb with the kind of wit and intelligence that Liam Gallagher made famous -- "It's a fucking fantastic record," smirks Chris Karloff. "It's kind of like we've popped out of our mum's fanny with our pubes on -- we've already developed" (from an interview with Dan Stubbs). Oasis should never be the template for working class stiffs making it large in the world of music. Admittedly, musicians are constantly thrust before waiting journalists, pushed for sensational copy when there's nothing left to say. Surely, it's difficult to stand out, to make a name for yourself amidst the morass of mediocrity trying to get ahead of you. For years though, the Stones were rock's great terrorists, and rarely did they have to resort to such Paleolithic statements. The genealogy begins long before them even, and Kasabian might want to take note before finding themselves pegged as grotesque working class stereotypes.
Samuel Johnson's famous aphorism -- "Sir, your manuscript is both good and original. But the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good." -- might have been coined for the brothers Gallagher. One suspects Kasabian seek an Oasis-like level of success (and why not?), but if so, it's to be hoped that their music does the talking, and in a way it seldom did for those particular of their idols.