Four albums in and it’s easy to get the impression that Kasabian are still searching for a clear identity. Whereas most of their contemporaries have either fallen by the wayside or found their niche, Kasabian are still straddling the line between 60s-inspired rock and downbeat electronics, but to the point it’s half of one and half of the other. This is far more evident on the quartet’s latest offering Velociraptor! than it has been on any other release to date.
I’m almost split as to what I’d like to hear from Kasabian myself. After 2009’s West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum a wise betting man would’ve put his money on the band continuing their guitar-driven journey, given the vast critical and commercial success it gave the band, and they’ve done that, to an extent, on Velociraptor! Openers “Let’s Roll Like We Used To” and “Days Are Forgotten” are driving rock songs. In a way, they’re the perfect one-two punch for Velociraptor!, acting as a continuation from West Ryder; it’s almost like we’re listening to part II. “Days Are Forgotten” is particularly good, bringing some swagger to proceedings; a swagger that was missing on West Ryder. Unfortunately, that swagger is also in short supply for most of Velociraptor!
After the opening two tracks, the band are insistent on filling the album with lower tempo excursions, both into the kind of electronic areas they were visiting on the debut and 60s/Beatles soundalikes. The issue is there’s no life to them. While the lyrics are a definite improvement the music just doesn’t engage enough to back those lyrics up. For example, “Goodbye Kiss” could’ve benefited from some pop-inspired synth melody to bring the energy level up, whereas the electronic track could’ve done with some guitar being included. There are a couple of mildly lively songs thrown in, however, these are so uninspiring it would’ve been better if they hadn’t been included in the first place; it’s easy to get the impression they were placed to bring the tempo up regardless of whether they fitted in.
This bloated mid-section gives way to “Switchblade Smiles” and “Neon Noon” which, fortunately, displays a return to top form. The mish-mash of dreamy choruses, edgy guitars and synths on “Switchblade Smiles” is Kasbian at their very best, mixing together completely different genres into something that sounds unforced, and unique. “Neon Noon” is everything the middle of Velociraptor! isn’t; a balanced blend of Serge Pizzorno’s otherworldly vocals, acoustic guitar and bubbling synth melodies.
If this were a school report it would read: could do better. There are some sublime moments on Velociraptor! that are let down by some less than stellar moments. The real shame is that those sublime moments rank as the very best of Kasabian’s career so far; the potential is there for a full album of something spectacular. Velociraptor! also helps to clear up the question of what route should the band take musically. When Kasabian fuse everything together, there’s no stopping them.