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Too many half-baked ideas, none of them original, shoehorned into insubstantial songs.
Kilian Murphy, 31 Aug 2006
Bangkok shocks, Saigon shakes, Leicester bangs.
Kasabian Mk I resembled a blueprint sketched out on the back of any schoolboy’s exercise book. Like, what would happen if we invented this really cool band that could do both Madchester and the old-guard rock god thang, spiced up with a dash of Death Valley '69 (Linda Kasabian, as any California noir scholar will tell you, was a prominent member of Charles Manson’s clan)?
It made sense, even if it had been done before. The Stone Roses’ Second Coming demonstrated how to weld the Bonham big beat with guitar histrionics and baggy-savvy rhythms. The Chemical Brothers and Noel Gallagher took it even further with ‘Setting Sun’, that bonecrushing club update of ‘Tomorrow Never Knows’.
But Britboy obsessions with halcyon histories can also backfire (see the Primals at their worst). Kasabian’s ‘Club Foot’ and ‘Reason Is Treason’ were rattling good singles, aided in no small way by striking videos, but there was always an unspoken caveat: the vague smell of Kula Shaker hanging over the band like that image of Manson lurking behind the Beatles in Raymond Pettibon’s famous SST flier. The Leicester quintet were always just one lapse in taste and judgment away from rock kareoke.
The opening strains of Empire do little to dispel such misgivings, for Kasabian have discarded the old templates and taken as their new muse and oracle…The Glitter Band? I shit you not. The opening tune and title track is a big-booted muttonchop glam stomp; silver-platformed double-drummers kicking their way through the Floyd’s ‘One Of These Days’ with insolent Liam‘n’Shaun vocals courtesy of Tom Meighan. Club-footed indeed. And just when you’re putting it down to second album jitters, they lay the second track ‘Shoot The Runner’ on you, same tempo, same inflatable novelty Flying V shapes. What the blazes is going on?
At this point I was fervently hoping the record would take a left turn. And it did. ‘Last Trip (In Flight)’ is the kind of motorik song Primal Scream might’ve demoed for Evil Heat…and swiftly binned. They may have the best intentions – to blend the indigenous sounds of two industrial cities, Detroit and Düsseldorf, but the finished product sounds too clean and contrived to be credible.
It gets worse. By ‘Me Plus One’ and ‘Sun/Rise/Light/Flies’ the boys have discovered, god help us, raga rock. ‘By My Side’ is The Verve at their most proggy and self-regarding. ‘British Legion’ is an acoustic Lennon-esque meander. And so it goes: too many half-baked ideas, none of them original, shoehorned into insubstantial songs.
What a bummer.