Review Summary: As a whole, West Ryder is just another Kasabian record, one with the requisite empty bravado of the falsely entitled and some seriously moronic lyrical posturing.
Remember when Oasis was cool? Well, so do Kasabian, and for this, shall we say, confident band from Leicester, they’ve never given up on the dream of being the next Britpop band to take over the world like those lovable Gallagher brothers. At face value they have it all – a critically acclaimed debut record, a snarly frontman, a songwriter/guitarist who occasionally steps up to the mic, and a “we’re the greatest band in the world” attitude. Closer inspection reveals, however, that Kasabian have long been mere pretenders to Oasis’ long dusty throne; their self-titled debut really wasn‘t all that amazing, singer Tom Meighan is just as annoying as Liam with fewer redeeming vocal qualities, and, while Sergio Pizzorno’s riffs are often the high point of any Kasabian record, they are usually more imitation than fresh goods.
But inane amounts of confidence and the regular hype from the British press, not to mention Oasis itself, have gotten the band this far, and with their third effort, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum, the group has delved into uncharted territory: the concept album. “Concept,” of course, being used very loosely; Pizzorno has stated the album is “the soundtrack to any imaginary movie,” and at 52 bloated minutes, it feels like one, albeit one without any noticeable theme or motif. Thing is, opener “Underdog” could have been on any Kasabian release. Roaring along grimy guitar riffs and Kasabian’s trademarked processed backbeats, “Underdog” features Meighan doing his normal Liam-esque rant, replete with bloodless threats like “kill me if you dare / hold my head up everywhere.”
Much has been made of this record’s supposed “experimentation,” and for all of “Underdog’s” undeniable catchiness, it’s enjoyable to hear the band mix things up on the psychedelic “Where Did All The Love Go?,” with its staccato strings and a ‘60s imitation chorus, and the excellently trippy acoustic stomp of “Thick As Thieves.” For every success, however, there’s a half-baked expedition like the over-before-it-starts “Swarfiga” or a failed genre exercise like the raga-rock of “Secret Alphabet” (which may or may not have been a response to Oasis’ similarly-themed “To Be Where There’s Life” off last year’s record).
Producer Dan the Automator’s influence is clearly felt on West Ryder, particularly on the squelching electronica of “Vlad The Impaler” and the excellent slow motion Western haunt that is “Ladies And Gentlemen, Roll The Dice,” not to mention the numerous pseudo-hip-hop beats that crop up in every other song. But a producer’s work can only save the source material so much, and when the lyrics are particularly boisterous and clanging, as on the embarrassing “Fast Fuse” (“I’ve got no time to love / just a city to abuse” and “I’m like Lucifer’s child, wild, acid done / black sunglasses shade the morning sun” go a few choice lyrics. Yeah, you’re quite the badass, Tom), even a solid hook can’t stave off disbelief at this band’s ego.
Indeed, it’s largely Meighan’s inability to deviate from his faux-Liam impression and limited range that reminds one that this is just another Kasabian record, for all its bells and whistles. Combine that with misfires like the predictably long “West Ryder Silver Bullet,” including the mandatory spooky spoken-word intro and Hollywood actress duet (Rosario Dawson contributing barely-there backup vocals) and the cringe-inducing sappiness of closer “Happiness.” Gentle ballad featuring soul-searching vocals by Pizzorno? Check. Handclaps? Check. Gospel singers to ram home the point that this is a seriously deep song? Check. A band that thinks they’re way better than they actually are? Quite possibly.
Like on every Kasabian record, there are some strong songs: for my money, there hasn’t been a better potential single than “Underdog” since “Reason Is Treason,” and when Kasabian do what they’re used to, like on first single “Fire,” or ape Oasis and their ‘60s forebears more or less perfectly (“Thick as Thieves”), this comes off as a pretty enjoyable record. But as a whole, West Ryder is just another Kasabian record, one with the requisite empty bravado of the falsely entitled and some seriously moronic lyrical posturing.