Tag Archives: Kasabian

Is Velociraptor! Lacking In Bite? Thoughts On Kasabian’s New Album.

Kasabian - Velociraptor!

If you happen to bring up Kasabian in conversation, the reaction you get will no doubt vary wildly depending on who you’re talking to – you may be disowned for even mentioning them, receive an admission that they’re a guilty pleasure, or be met with an over-enthusiastic reaction along the lines of “FUCKIN’ ‘AVIN IT MAAAATE!”

However, the lager-lad brigade may not find much to connect with on new album Velociraptor!, as it’s not quite as excitable as the exclamation mark in its title may suggest. Sure, there’s the ‘Immigrant Song’-aping swagger of ‘Days Are Forgotten’ and the taut, brutish menace of ‘Switchblade Smiles’ (which also seems to riff on the very same song, oddly enough), but beyond that there isn’t much in the way of the stadium-ready anthems that the band are best known for.

There certainly isn’t a lack of ambition on this record – the problem is that it fails to come to fruition more often than not. ‘Lets Roll Just Like We Used To’ begins the record with the sound of a booming gong, before revealing that it actually wants to be a late-period Beatles track – it’s competent enough but struggles to leave a lasting impression. Worse is ‘Acid Turkish Bath (Shelter From The Storm)’, which falls into the same trap as a few tracks from the band’s previous record – it’s all bombast and pretensions at being “epic”, but lacks any sort of aim or focus. Even the more straightforward electro-rock stomp of ‘Rewired’ feels like an off-cut from a previous record.

At other times, the record actually manages to make Kasabian sound boring, which, for all their faults, is something you’d struggle to have accused them of in the past. ‘Goodbye Kiss’ is a fairly pedestrian attempt at being romantic and bittersweet, while ‘La Fee Verte’ is the least interesting song about absinthe that you’re ever likely to hear. The most criminal moment on the record, however, is ‘Man Of Simple Pleasures’ – a song whose lethargic swagger couldn’t be more Oasis-aping if it tried.

To be fair, it’s not all completely terrible. Despite its wilfully oddball lyrics, the record’s title track at least has some pace about it, and the plodding ‘I Hear Voices’ just about gets a pass because it sounds a bit like something from one of the Streets Of Rage games. The record’s best attempt at balladry also comes at its close, with ‘Neon Noon’ at least having the good grace to pinch some synth sounds from the band’s debut in order to make things at least a little interesting.

Regardless of any misgivings I (or anyone else) may have, the album’s commercial success was all but assured – and sure enough, it went straight to number one in the UK charts on the week of its release. More surprising, however, is that critical reaction to the record has also been largely positive – it currently stands at a respectable average of 80 on Metacritic, with only Drowned In Sound and The Observer giving it less than 6/10. Personally, I’d be inclined to agree with these low-scoring exceptions – and also this scathing missive from Chris Nosnibor over at Whisperin’ And Hollerin’. Go ahead and decide for yourself though – you can listen to the album yourself courtesy of this stream (via NME.com).

Velociraptor! is out now on Columbia records.

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Let’s Get Cynical About: The Brit Awards 2010

After finally finishing my ‘Songs Of The Decade’ posts, I wasn’t sure what I was going to talk about next. But as luck would have it, the nominations for this year’s Brit Awards have just been announced – and they’re always ripe for a good kicking. Without further ado then…

British Female Solo Artist

Bat For Lashes
Florence & The Machine

Leona Lewis
Lily Allen
Pixie Lott

Bat For Lashes is clearly the standout act in this list – which means, of course, she stands bugger all chance of winning. Predicting a winner from the rest of the artists seems a little bit tricky, but if I were a betting man I’d put my money on the big-selling winner of last year’s ‘Critics Choice’ award, Florence & The Machine.

British Male Solo Artist

Calvin Harris
Dizzee Rascal
Mika
Paolo Nutini
Robbie Williams

Well, Robbie Williams has already won this about a million times before, and he’s picking up the Outstanding Contribution To Music award this year, so it seems a bit pointless for him to win here. As for the rest… well, Mika should clearly not be winning anything apart from ‘most irritating voice’. It’s not easy to make a prediction here, but I reckon they might be ‘edgy’ this year and pick Dizzee Rascal. He is performing at the ceremony, if that’s any indication of anything.

British Breakthrough Act

Florence & The Machine
Friendly Fires
JLS
La Roux
Pixie Lott

This category has been subject to the vagaries of the public vote for as long as I can remember, which has resulted in some truly terrible winners. That tradition is probably set to continue here – I predict a JLS victory, but I’ll be quite happy to be wrong. I’ll be voting for Friendly Fires, for what it’s worth.

British Group

Doves
Friendly Fires
JLS
Kasabian
Muse

While the only possible reaction to JLS being on this list is “oh, FUCK OFF,” seeing Friendly Fires get a nomination is a very pleasant surprise – but I don’t think either of them will win. It’s probably a two horse race between Kasabian and Muse, and I think Kasabian will take it.

British Album

Dizzee Rascal – Tongue N’ Cheek
Florence & The Machine – Lungs
Kasabian – West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum
Lily Allen – It’s Not Me, It’s You
Paulo Nutini – Sunny Side Up

Considering the amount of brilliant British albums released in 2009, this is quite a mediocre list, in the grand scheme of things. Oh, wait, it’s the Brits. Anyway, I think it’s going to be Florence & The Machine or Kasabian, but I can’t decide which… Florence or Kasabian. Florence or Kasabian…

Florence.

British Single

Alesha Dixon – ‘Breathe Slow’
Alexandra Burke Ft Flo Rida – ‘Bad Boys’
Cheryl Cole – ‘Fight For This Love’
Joe McElderry – ‘The Climb’
JLS – ‘Beat Again’
La Roux – ‘In For The Kill’
Lily Allen – ‘The Fear’
Pixie Lott – ‘Mama Do’
Taio Cruz – ‘Break Your Heart’
Tinchy Stryder Ft N-Dubz – ‘Number 1’

In recent years, the British Single category has devolved into the ultimate public-voted crapshoot, making it near impossible to make an accurate prediction. But isn’t it wonderful that there are three X-Factor acts in this category AGAIN! Isn’t it touching that both little Joe McElderry and his X-Factor mentor, Cheryl Cole, are nominated! Isn’t it brilliant that the best songs on here, by a country mile, are by La Roux and Lily Allen! Aren’t N-Dubz shit!

…wait, I’m not being sarcastic about that last one. Better hope Dappy doesn’t send me death threats!

BRITs Album of 30 Years

Coldplay – A Rush Of Blood To The Head
Dido – No Angel
Dire Straits – Brothers In Arms
Duffy – Rockferry
Keane – Hopes & Fears
Oasis – (What’s the Story) Morning Glory?
Phil Collins – No Jacket Required
Sade – Diamond Life
The Verve – Urban Hymns
Travis – The Man Who

Question: Which of these albums is the best of the last thirty years?

The correct answer is Radiohead Kid A. But uh, that didn’t win when it was nominated in 2001, and the slightly obtuse rules for this category state that, to be nominated, an album has to have won in the ‘Best British Album’ category at the Brits (as well as having sold a truckload). This one’s up for the public vote as well – as if one complete crapshoot wasn’t enough. As for a prediction… my stab in the dark would be Coldplay.

Most Memorable Brits Performance of 30 Years

I’m not even going to bother listing the extensive nominations for this category, as among them is one Michael Jackson – he of recently-deceased-King-Of-Pop fame – and as this is yet another publicly voted category, I would be massively surprised if anyone but him wins.

International Female Solo Artist

Lady Gaga
Ladyhawke
Norah Jones
Rhianna
Shakira

Well, after reading the first name on this list, the rest just read like a formality. Personally, I’d take Ladyhawke over Lady Gaga any day of the year, but I really can’t see anyone but the disco-stick rider taking this.

International Male Solo Artist

Bruce Springsteen
Eminem
Jay-Z
Micheal Buble
Seasick Steve

Well, technically Lady Gaga could win this award too lolololol!!111! I don’t really know which way this one’s going to go, but Jay-Z lost out to Kanye last time, and with Mr. West nowhere to be seen, I reckon it could be the Hova’s year.

International Album

Animal Collective – Merriweather Post Pavilion
Black Eyed Peas – The E.N.D.
Empire of the Sun – Walking On A Dream
Jay-Z – The Blueprint 3
Lady Gaga – The Fame

While I didn’t particularly get into it myself, it’s nice to see the Brits academy at least acknowledging the critical love-fest that surrounded Animal Collective’s latest record. However, as always, they’ll reward the artist that sold a shit-tonne of units – that’d be Lady Gaga then.

International Breakthrough Artist

Animal Collective
Daniel Merriweather
Empire Of The Sun
Lady Gaga
Taylor Swift

For some reason, the Brit awards have seen fit to replace ‘Best International Group’ with this new, publicly voted category – and because it’s a public vote, Lady Gaga wins. The End. I guess it’s kinda funny that Animal Collective are considered a ‘Breakthrough Act’ after nine albums though.

And that’s your (Pixie) lot(t). Ho ho ho. Come back after the awards ceremony on the 16th to see how right/wrong I was!

… you can come back before then if you like though. I might even have written about something else.

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My Songs Of The Decade, pt II: 2004-2006

I decided that attempting to compile any objective sort of list of the ‘best songs of the decade’ was was ultimately a futile effort, so instead you get this – a vague attempt to recount the songs that not only are great tunes (well, mostly), but in many cases have also had some personal relevance to my life. I’m going to list them year-by-year, so you’ll have to excuse the inevitable fragmentation of my own personal chronology, as I didn’t ‘get into’ many of these songs until years after they were released.

And yes, I’m aware that by this time ‘End of Decade’ lists are “so last decade”, but never mind.

2004

Arcade Fire – ‘In The Backseat’ – (Funeral)

Interestingly, in all the ‘Best Of The Decade’ coverage I’ve seen so far, everyone agrees that Funeral was an amazing album, but not necessarily on which song (or songs) should represent it in a list of the ‘Best Songs Of The Decade’. I’m going with ‘In The Backseat’ because it feels like it really captures the sense of loss that permeates the album – and when Régine’s voice finally breaks down into a desperate howl it’s a moment of truly gut-wrenching emotion. For me, it’s almost impossible to listen to this song without ending up with tears in my eyes.

Feist – ‘Let It Die’ – (Let It Die)

Being prone to wallowing in my own misery, I latched on to this song as a kind of post-breakup ‘cold comfort’. What makes this one of the most beautifully tragic songs of the decade is that it not only captures the sadness of faded love, but also the regret – “The saddest part of a broken heart/Isn’t the ending so much as the start.”

Franz Ferdinand – ‘Take Me Out’ – (Franz Ferdinand)

While ‘Take Me Out’ would prove to be only the first of many dancefloor-slaying behemoths from the Scottish quartet, it’ll probably remain their most memorable. Why? Because of the simple, hook-laden lyrics, and the fact that it contains the kind of instantly recognisable guitar line that is destined to be chanted on nightclub floors for years to come.

Interpol – ‘Narc’ – (Antics)

Yeah, yeah, everyone bums Turn On The Bright Lights far more than its successor, but ‘Narc’ makes this list because it was one of the first Interpol tracks I heard. Paul Banks’ cryptic crooning and that utterly infectious guitar riff had me hooked – and happily, they had even better tracks than this in abundance.

Kasabian – ‘Club Foot’ – (Kasabian)

Ah, remember when it was actually ‘acceptable’ to like Kasabian? Remember when the words ‘lad-rock’ weren’t permanently associated with them? Remember when ‘Club Foot’ was, simply, a massive tune?

Oh, my bad – it still is.

2005

The Bravery – ‘Unconditional’ – (The Bravery)

For a while, The Bravery were one of my absolute favourite bands – and while ‘An Honest Mistake’ will inevitably be the tune they are remembered for, ‘Unconditional’ was largely to blame for my own personal fanboyism. Yes, that synth line does sound a lot like a ringtone (indeed, it was mine for a good while), but to me it was possibly one of the most euphoric-sounding things ever. Couple that with easy to relate to (if only vaguely meaningful) lyrics, and it was easy to latch on to in my confused, early student days. Not that I’m trying to make excuses – I still think that ‘Unconditional’ was both criminally overlooked and a sublime tune.

On a more general note, The Bravery can be credited as among the bands who made me start going to gigs in earnest – I’d been to only 4 or 5 gigs before 2005, but I dare not think about how much I’ve spend on tickets since then…

The Duke Spirit – ‘Love Is An Unfamiliar Name’ – (Cuts Across The Land)

Speaking of criminally overlooked, The Duke Spirit would like to say hi. Their debut record was a fine work of art – sexy, dark and raw, in complete contrast to many of their shinier, chirpier peers. ‘Love Is An Unfamiliar Name’ in particular was an alluringly dirty slice of rock – the kind that forces you to shake your hips in a way you didn’t even think you were capable of. If I ever run a clubnight, I will play this every week until the end of time – to make up for the fact that it should, by rights, have been all over dancefloors back in 2005.

Editors – ‘Bullets’ – (The Back Room)

Editors, on the other hand, had no difficulty becoming an indie-disco staple. It’s not difficult to see why – incessant beats, big, reverberating guitar riffs and catchy choruses make for great dancing/singing material. However, Editors mean so much more to me than that. Not only did I form a massive emotional attachment with the band’s music, they also lead me to meet someone who would become a very good friend at a time when I didn’t really have all that many – more than ever, I realised the power of music to bring people together.

Maxïmo Park – ‘Apply Some Pressure’ – (A Certain Trigger)

Perhaps a bit of a cop-out selection on my part given that there are Maxïmo Park songs with far more personal resonance to me, but this is arguably their best tune and certainly the most succinct summation of what the band are about. It also contains a sentiment that I’m sure anyone can relate to: “What happens when you lose everything? You just start again… you start all over again.”

Patrick Wolf – ‘This Weather’ – (Wind In The Wires)

Ultimately, the appreciation of music is a personal thing – and so it stands to reason that we connect it to events in our lives, and indeed to other people. People introduce each other to music, and thus one of someone else’s favourite songs can become one of your own. But music can also be representative of a time, a place, a person, or even a specific moment.

For me, ‘This Weather’ is all of those things, but – just as importantly – it’s also a genuinely beautiful song.

Test Icicles – ‘Circle. Square. Triangle’ – (For Screening Purposes Only)

Perhaps one of the decade’s most famously short-lived bands, Test Icicles splurged onto the scene only to implode shortly after – and if they left any sort of lasting legacy, ‘Circle. Square. Triangle’ was arguably it. Pounding drum-machine beats, coruscating, criss-crossing guitars and lunatic screams combined to create a completely unhinged, yet utterly compelling dancefloor-slayer. Hell, it’s never gonna happen, but I’d take a Test Icicles reunion over another Led Zeppelin or Sex Pistols get-together any day.

2006

Arctic Monkeys – ‘From The Ritz To The Rubble’ – (Whatever People Say I Am, That’s What I’m Not)

It’s difficult to pick one, defining song from Arctic Monkeys’ debut album, but Alex Turner’s urgent delivery on ‘From The Ritz To The Rubble’ lends his ever-wry observations an extra edge, and it’s matched by the song’s searing guitar. The fact that this is just one highlight of many is a stark reminder of just how good this album is.

Grinderman – ‘No Pussy Blues’ – (Grinderman)

This is picked purely because of its objective brilliance, and is not in any way a reflection of the sexual frustration which has so often been a part of my life. Honest.

But really, any man who can’t relate to Nick Cave’s exasperated cry of “DAMN!” just before the frazzled guitar kicks in is a liar. Or a massive dickhead.

The Horrors – ‘Sheena Is A Parasite’ – (The Horrors EP)

It might seem overly indie-faggy to cite this as being from the EP rather than debut album Strange House, but doing so more accurately represents the time-frame in which I got completely obsessed with this song’s snarling sub-two-minute blast of venomous, gothic garage-rock. They may have moved on (and gained greater critical acclaim to boot), but this is one hell of a reminder that The Horrors were an exciting proposition from the get-go.

Howling Bells – ‘In The Woods’ – (Howling Bells)

Howling Bells’ debut album was a sublime record all round, but, for me, ‘In The Woods’ stands out as its most amazing track. Evocative of fragile love in a lonely place, it’s spine-tinglingly atmospheric and stunningly, beautifully naked in its introspection. It’s one of those songs that can, for a few minutes, transport you to another place – and it’s a place you’ll want to visit over and over again, all the while yearning for it as if it were real.

The Long Blondes – ‘You Could Have Both’ – (Someone To Drive You Home)

I mentioned in my last blog that I’m a bit of a sucker for spoken word sections in songs, and I think this was the track that started it all. It is a bloody brilliant spoken word section though – in places referential (“I feel like CC Baxter in Wilder’s ‘Apartment’…”), paranoid, (“I was in full time education when I got scared of the future”), resigned (“and I’ve only got a job so I don’t disappoint my mother”), sardonic (“And you don’t have to worry that much about the future/and it’s not as if you ever did before”) and more besides. Overall, it just felt brilliantly relatable – especially the line “and you’ll always have someone to drive you home,” which seemed like it was written especially for teetotal designated drivers like myself.

Oh, and the rest of the song is pretty damn good too.

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Dishonourable Mentions: The Year’s Biggest Disappointment Is…

To be honest, there were fairly few albums that I can honestly say I was disappointed by in 2009 – which probably implies that I haven’t listened to enough records in general, but never mind. Maxïmo Park’s third effort, Quicken The Heart, was solid but unspectacular, feeling like the band were on auto-pilot more often than they should be. Another “difficult third album” came in the form of West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum, which saw Kasabian toying with experimentation but ultimately failing as much as they succeeded. And with The Resistance, Muse didn’t so much push the boat out as push it somewhere into outer space – but the results varied from the brilliantly ridiculous (‘United States Of Eurasia’) to… well, just plain ridiculous (‘I Belong To You’).

However, there is one record that, for me, stands out as a particularly crushing disappointment. The ‘winner’ of “Biggest Disappointment Of 2009” goes to…

Howling Bells – Radio Wars

Howling Bells - Radio Wars

To understand how disappointed I was by Radio Wars, you have to understand just how much I loved Howling Bells’ self-titled debut. That record was a masterpiece of bleak, 3-am loneliness, all haunting guitars and fragile emotions – it’s easily one of my all-time favourite albums, and penultimate track ‘In The Woods’ is one of my absolute favourite songs EVER.

For me, the level of expectation for their second album was high – perhaps too high to live up to – but in any case I found myself let down. Not because Radio Wars is a bad record – it’s competent at worst, and it certainly has its moments – but because it felt like Howling Bells had forgotten everything that made me love them in the first place.The album has been largely washed-over with a well-produced sheen – the guitars feel dulled, and Juanita Stein’s once arresting sentiment now rings hollow, meaning that moments where the band re-capture the feel of their first record are few and far between. Despite their poppier sound, ‘Treasure Hunt’ and ‘Into The Chaos’ both take a decent stab at it, and Juanita’s strained cry of “…and now there’s nowhere to run” in the chorus of ‘Golden Web’ almost grasps the emotion of old – but even that feels like she’s not really giving it her all. ‘Cities Burning Down’ seems to be the lone exception to the rule – and tellingly, it’s a re-vamped version of a three year old B-side. It’s also the best thing on here – and it’s definitely not a good sign when a three year old song trumps everything else you’ve written for your latest album.

On a personal level, the biggest crime committed by Radio Wars is that rather than leave me wanting more, as the band’s debut did, it pretty much just leaves me cold. I’ve listened to the two records back-to-back, just to make sure I’m not overstating this too much – but honestly, Radio Wars doesn’t even come close to being as arrestingly beautiful as Howling Bells. As such, I have mixed feelings about a third record from Howling Bells – anticipation that perhaps it might be a return to form, but also a sense that I shouldn’t get my hopes up. For now, I’ll be wistfully playing the band’s debut and hoping that Radio Wars is just a bit of a blip…

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A Weekend In The City, pt I

(No, not an incredibly belated review of the second Bloc Party album, but a reference to an actual weekend spent in the city it references with a very dear friend of mine. Oh, and the gigs we went to, of course…)

Kasabian @ London Wembley Arena, Saturday 14th November 2009

If my opinion of Kasabian‘s latest album in my Mercury Prize round-up seemed a little guarded in its praise, that’s because, well, it was. I wasn’t desperately impressed by the band’s attempts at experimentation – truth be told, I preferred the songs that sounded more like their previous work. I also wouldn’t doubt that the ‘big’ tunes are what the majority of tonight’s audience are here to see – and I know it’s a massive cliché to talk about the crowd at a Kasabian gig, but in this case their response to certain songs went at least some way to proving me right. But more on that later. The stage set-up is obviously inspired by the title of the band’s latest effort, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum, with various psychiatric trappings, roadies wearing lab-coats emblazoned with the word ‘SANE’, confusing statistics and (probably fictional?) patient reports flashed up on the big screens before the gig even began. The giant ‘video-frame’ (for lack of a technical term) that the band performed in was a nice touch too.

So, after an on-screen countdown that ran down twice without any sign of the band and an overly long message at the top of the frame that culminated in the phrase ‘Now Or Never’, the curtains were finally pulled back to reveal the full extent of Kasabian’s lunatic asylum – and the band themselves, of course. After riding through a perfectly decent B-side (called ‘Julie And The Moth-Man’, apparently) on the back of the crowd’s pent-up expectation, they waste no time in dropping the first of their heavy hitters, ‘Underdog’. Predictably, the crowd goes nuts, and fair play to them because it’s a MASSIVE tune – and I’ll admit to being suitably caught up in it too. So much so, in fact, that it only now strikes me as ironic that Tom Meighan sings “I’m the underdog,” when he quite obviously believes the exact opposite – he’s more ‘top dog’ than underdog. (Ok, that was bad…)

The band relentlessly keep up the pace, blasting through more big numbers – ‘Where Did All The Love Go’, ‘Shoot The Runner’, ‘Cutt Off’ – but then the gig falls into a lull that it’ll take about two and a half songs to break out of. First up, the lead singer from chronically boring opening act Dark Horses took to the stage to perform Rosario Dawson’s role on ‘West Ryder Silver Bullet’. Unfortunately, it’s one of the dullest songs on the new album, taking about five minutes to go precicesly nowhere – and rather than give the gig a much-needed shot in the arm by following it with an up-tempo song, the band are content to saunter along with ‘Thick As Thieves’, which pretty much kills the crowd entirely until the chorus of “La La La”s towards the end. It’s only when we get to the chorus of ‘Take Aim’ that the gig really feels like it’s started to get going again. Meighan’s absence during this song is notable – while Kasabian’s frontman exhibits an apparently unshakeable belief that his band are the heirs to Oasis’ throne, guitarist Serge Pizzorno doesn’t quite appear to have the same sense of confidence.

It’s a good job that ‘Empire’ comes crashing in afterwards to turn the throttle back up to the maximum, and Meighan salutes the crowd with an utterly obvious cry of “WEMBLEY YOU ARE FUCKING EMPIRE!” With the crowd firmly back on their side, you can easily forgive the band for stepping down just a couple of notches with ‘I.D’ – although that’s largely because it’s pretty ace, in a woozy, trippy sort of way. Sadly, another mis-step is forthcoming, with ‘Ladies And Gentlemen (Roll The Dice)’ being another snore-fest that not even a dedication from Meighan to ‘absent friends’ can save. After that though, it’s all business from here on out – ‘Processed Beats’ and ‘Fire’ are predictably huge, while ‘The Doberman’ proves that Kasabian  *can* do a slow song without boring the audience to death. They wrap up their main set with a one-two punch – softening us up with ‘Fast Fuse’ before delivering the hammer blow that is ‘Club Foot’.

With the lingering spectre of the night’s duller songs still in my mind, I suggested to my friend Euge that the encore will consist of “something dull off West Ryder, and ‘L.S.F'” – to which she promptly replied that I should “stop being so cynical”. She was quite right, as it turns out – I was so pre-occupied with the fear that they might waste five minutes of my life playing ‘Happiness’ that I ended up being completely blindsided when they opened their encore with ‘Vlad The Impaler’. They even gave us a nice little surprise by getting Noel Fielding on stage to reprise his role from the song’s video. I mean sure, all he did was prance around and punt a few fake severed heads into the crowd, but it was fun nonetheless. Possibly a disappointment to the guy at the bar who enthusiastically told me about a rumoured appearance by Noel Gallagher though…

Happily, the band surprise me again by following up with a high-energy performance of ‘Stuntman’ (another song that had completely slipped my mind), before the night closed with a rendition of ‘L.S.F (Lost Souls Forever)’ that was nothing short of anthemic. So anthemic, in fact, that the the song’s closing refrain of “LAAAAAA LAA LAA, LA LA LA LA LAAA LAAAAA” could be heard echoing through the streets and tube stations of London long after the confetti cannons had stopped (seriously, even when we were miles away from Wembley there were *still* people singing it).

It’s fair to say that a band like Kasabian present an interesting conundrum for the ‘self-respecting music fan’, or whatever pretentious phrase you wish to use. Clearly, they see themselves as a ‘band of the people’, and that doesn’t just mean lager-lads – a quick look at the people around me during the gig makes it clear that the band appeal to a broad cross-section of ages and genders. They’re often snobbishly derided as appealing to the ‘lowest common denominator’, an opinion that’s somewhat supported by reaction to the band’s more experimental numbers – give the crowd a song like ‘Thick As Thieves’ that deviates from the usual Kasabian template and what do they most easily identify with? The ‘La La La’ bit they can chant along with. In a similar vein, the huge cheer that the word ‘Ecstasy’ gets when it appears at the top of the ‘video-frame’ before the encore speaks volumes. But should that matter? Surely we should focus on the band themselves rather than dismissing them due to elements of their fanbase?

However, you can also pick holes in the band’s performance. Tom’s stage banter is pretty much brain-dead – aside from the ‘Empire’ reference I mentioned earlier, we get such gems as “WEMBLEY, YOU ARE ON FIRE!” (take a guess at what song that came after), something about seeing “lots of whites of eyes” during ‘Stuntman’ (yeah I get the lyrical reference and all but… what?), and about a million demands to “PUT YOUR FUCKING HANDS IN THE AIR!” There’s also my previous complaint about the slow songs, never mind the fact that if you think too much about it the band’s lyrics tend to fall into the ‘anthemically vague’ category – the type of thing you can chant along with without caring very much about whether it really means anything. And I’m sure people more astute than I could unravel the very music itself until there’s nothing left but a mess of derivative threads.

But the band are, for all their faults, entertaining – at least to me and the thousands of others present here tonight. I’m not trying to justify the inherently flawed “popular = good” defence, but what I’m trying to say is that a band shouldn’t immediately become some sort of musical pariah just because they’ve become popular. Critics may sneer at Kasabian’s fans, lazily tarring them all with the same brush. But I’m not a lager-lout. Or a thug. Or an idiot (some may disagree with that last one, but shhh). But I like Kasabian. I mean sure, I’m not going to rush out and declare West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum “album of the year” (seriously now Q Magazine, do you realise how daft that makes you look?), and I don’t slavishly adore them, but I do like them. If that makes me a bad person in some people’s eyes, then so be it – but if you genuinely hate the band then surely you should be able to articulate why that is without resorting to cheap shots at their fanbase? It’s fair to say that a person’s taste in music can say a lot about them, but not all the time. Sometimes, even the most cynical or snobbish music fan must want a simple pleasure, no?

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Let’s Get Cynical About: The Mercury Prize

Yes, I’m a bit slow on the uptake I know. But I wanted to give each of the albums a reasonably thorough listening before spouting off about them, and I’d heard less than half the list beforehand. Unfortunately, Sensible Shoes by Led Bib isn’t to be found on Spotify, or Last FM, or anywhere else that I could think of, so I’ll have to leave it out of my critique. But here’s my take on the 11 other Mercury nominated albums, in reverse order of personal preference.

11. Glasvegas – Glasvegas

Glasvegas - Glasvegas

Glasvegas – Glasvegas

You may be surprised to find an ‘indie’ album at the bottom of this list, but in my opinion Glasvegas are shit.

Ok, maybe ‘shit’ is too strong a word when you consider the sweeping strains of ‘Geraldine’ and the heartfelt, tub-thumping bellow of ‘Daddy’s Gone’, but beyond that I honestly don’t think they’ve got much going for them. The swathes of guitar noise that define the album are too often dragged down by awkward nursery rhyme/playground chant lyrics – see ‘It’s My Own Cheating Heart That Makes Me Cry’, which features James Allan singing “liar, liar pants on fire” more earnestly than any grown man ever should, or the mawkish chorus of ‘You Are My Sunshine’ that’s extraneously tacked onto the end of ‘Flowers And Football Tops’. And at worst, the album ignores the band’s strengths entirely – as on ‘Stabbed’, which is basically just Allan monologuing morbidly over Beethoven’s ‘Moonlight Sonata’. By the time I’ve arrived at dreary album-closer ‘Ice Cream Van’, I’d pretty much fallen asleep – how Glasvegas have received such widespread praise for an album with so few highlights is beyond me.

10. La Roux – La Roux

La Roux - La Roux

La Roux – La Roux

Ah, La Roux. Catapulted into the spotlight and duly embraced by the British public after a string of admittedly very good singles (‘Quicksand’, ‘In For The Kill’, ‘Bulletproof’), I’d almost be disappointed that the quality of the singles hasn’t carried over to the album… if that fact wasn’t so damn predictable. Front-loaded to the extreme in typical pop record fashion, after it’s dispensed with its singles and ‘Tigerlily’, (which is fairly decent despite a bizarre ‘Thriller’ pastiche towards the end), it quickly tails off into dull, dull, dull territory. ‘Cover My Eyes’ is a yawnsome sub R’n’B ballad, ‘Armour Love’ is so sluggish that it makes me feel like I’ve been tranquillised, and there’s a song called ‘Fascination’ that’s so full of nothing that it makes me long for the Alphabeat track of the same name. And I love video game style synths as much as the next geek, but tracks like ‘I’m Not Your Toy’ and ‘As If By Magic’ just manage to make them sound trite and formulaic – not to mention that by the time that ‘Reflections Are Protection’ rolls around, there’s a nagging feeling that the album has descended into repetition.

Overall, I can sum up my opinion of La Roux’s nomination in four words: Little Boots was robbed.

9. Lisa Hannigan – Sea Sew

Lisa Hannigan - Sea Sew

Lisa Hannigan – Sea Sew

This year’s ‘token folk’ nomination is Irish singer-songwriter Lisa Hannigan, who (like me) you may have heard without realising – she made major contributions to Damien Rice’s first two albums. However, after their writing and touring partnership ended in 2007, she returned to Ireland to record her debut solo album, Sea Sew – and from its handmade patchwork artwork and the fact that it contains a song called ‘Splishy Splashy’, it’s clear without listening that it’s all going to be very lovely. Indeed, even after listening, the word ‘lovely’ is pretty much all that comes to mind. Hannigan’s quietly beautiful vocal glides over gentle acoustic strums and graceful strings – it’s all just rather nice really. Thankfully, just as the album threatens to make you zone out completely, it mixes things up a little – ‘I Don’t Know’ is cute, catchy and has a pleasing simplicity about it, and the minor key tones of ‘Keep It All’ make a welcome change. But then it returns to ‘lovely’ territory again – even album-closer ‘Lille’ is overshadowed by its cutesy pop-up book video.

It seems harsh to place this album so low largely for the crime of being ‘too nice’ – indeed, in my opinion it’s markedly better than the previous two albums – but unfortunately it just doesn’t grab me enough to warrant a higher position. Sorry about that, Lisa.

8. Florence & The Machine – Lungs

Florence & The Machine - Lungs

Florence & The Machine – Lungs

Like La Roux, Florence Welch (otherwise known as Florence & The Machine) was another female artist who was hotly-tipped at the beginning of the year, and she makes it higher on the list than the red-haired one largely on the basis that her Kate-Bush-lite schtick is more interesting than La Roux’s one-dimensional electro. ‘Dog Days Are Over’ and ‘Rabbit Heart (Raise It Up)’, start the album compellingly enough with blissfully ethereal vocals, dreamy instrumentation and harmonious chanting. Thankfully, the quality doesn’t completely drop off after the first two tracks – ‘Howl’, ‘Drumming Song’ and ‘Cosmic Love’ are all suitably dramatic, and the scuzzy guitar of ‘Kiss With A Fist’ provide a good contrast to the rest of the album. It’s not without it’s duds, however – ‘I’m Not Calling You A Liar’ merely plods along, and ‘Girl With One Eye’ is a lethargic warbling exercise that’s also rather creepy. The decision to tack her cover of ‘You’ve Got The Love’ on the end is potentially a double-edged sword as well. It’s good, yes, but it threatens to become her ‘Hounds Of Love’ – except, unlike The Futureheads, she hasn’t truly made the song her own.

At the end of the day, however, the main reason I can’t place Lungs any higher than this on my list is that there’s already a far better ethereal pop album present (take a bow, Two Suns). Florence & The Machine’s effort is certainly far from unlistenable, but it lacks the truly jaw-dropping highlights that Natasha Khan’s record has in abundance.

7. Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Twice Born Men

Sweet Billy Pilgrim - Twice Born Men

Sweet Billy Pilgrim – Twice Born Men

I’d never heard anything at all about Sweet Billy Pilgrim prior to this year’s Mercury nominations, but upon listening to the opening track of Twice Born Men I was prepared to be blown away – ‘Here It Begins’, with its majestic instrumental build-up and world-weary, spoken word lyrics, almost signalled the beginning of something brilliant. As it turns out, I wasn’t quite as amazed by the rest of the album as I’d hoped – but I was nevertheless very pleasantly surprised. ‘Truth Only Smiles’ is a charming, pretty, multi-instrumental ballad, while ‘Bloodless Coup’ has an air of quiet melancholy about it. As a whole, the album is well composed, thoughtfully textured and beautifully played… and yet, it has a tendency to just drift past, barely noticed, like a quiet breeze. Depending on what you want from your music, that may or may not be what you’re looking for – for me, the shimmering beauty of Twice Born Men is easy to like, but difficult to truly fall in love with. Nevertheless, it’s an accomplished album that’s deserving of a place on the shortlist.

6. Kasabian – West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum

Kasabian - West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum

Kasabian – West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum

If you were surprised by Glasvegas’ placing then you may well be balking that Kasabian have even ended up this high. In truth, I wasn’t convinced by West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum at first – but with repeated listens the number of dud tracks seemed to steadily decrease. ‘Fire’ was an instant winner with its jaunty, wild-west verses and anthemic chorus, as were the fuzzy bass and thumping beats of ‘Vlad The Impaler’. ‘Take Aim’, ‘Underdog’ and ‘Fast Fuse’ were also fairly quick to impress, but it’s when the band attempt to break from their usual sonic template that the songs take a little longer to reveal their charms. Drowned in Sound pointed out that ‘Thick As Thieves’ has more than an air of The Kinks’ ‘Sunny Afternoon’ about it, but it works just about passably with the bands’ swaggering demeanour, while ‘Secret Alphabets’ isn’t any worse off for trying to sound a bit like psychadelic-era Beatles. On the other hand, ‘West Ryder Silver Bullet’ attempts to take a crack at being ‘epic’, but ultimately ends up sauntering around aimlessly for five minutes without really going anywhere. Album-closer ‘Happiness’ is also pretty much an outright dud, with the best word I can use to describe it being ‘nice’ – and when the Gospel choir kicks in you’ll probably think “WTF? This isn’t Kasabian.”

It’s good to see the band trying something a bit different, but most of the best tracks on West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum are the ones where they sound like the ‘old’ Kasabian. Maybe that opinion aligns me closer than I’d like to the lager-lads who the band seem to be perpetually linked with, but hey, I’m just calling it how I see it.

5. Speech Debelle – Speech Therapy

Speech Debelle - Speech Therapy

Speech Debelle – Speech Therapy

It’s good to see Speech Debelle continuing the trend of ‘token urban’ nominations that are far from ‘token’ (never mind the fact that I’ve no clue what ‘urban’ is supposed to mean these days). If there’s one thing that Speech Therapy does well is throw ‘urban’ stereotypes out of the window within its first two tracks – the plaintive guitar of opener ‘Searching’ is disarming, and second track ‘The Key’ features clarinets. Yes, clarinets! Bog-standard beats ‘n’ rhymes rap this ain’t. Of course, all that would count for very little if the eclectic instrumentation wasn’t matched with a solid flow – thankfully, Speech has effortlessly affecting rhymes in spades. And they’re spoken from the heart – ‘Go Then, Bye’ tackles break-ups without being trite, ‘Daddy’s Little Girl’ is an emotionally raw, yet calmly restrained attack on Speech’s absent father, and title track ‘Speech Therapy’ is both a crucial insight into Speech’s motivations and a moving tribute to her mother.

To ignore Speech Debelle simply because she’s an ‘urban’ artist, or because she’s a rapper, would be foolish indeed – she provides an emotional and thought-provoking view into a world that you may not have even considered thinking about.

4. The Invisible – The Invisible

The Invisible - The Invisible

The Invisible – The Invisible

The Invisible were surely one of this year’s more unexpected nominations, but their self-titled debut is certainly deserving of the exposure. It takes a little while to get going – ‘Constant’ is a slow-burner that sounds like the moody, disaffected cousin of Bloc Party’s ‘Banquet’, but once the funky bass of ‘London Girl’ kicks in the album rarely looks back. ‘Baby Doll’ is subtly builds up to an understatedly anthemic chorus, ‘Monster’s Waltz’ bubbles along pleasingly before breaking out into a wall of guitars, and ‘Ok’ is just pure feel-good funk. The band also know how to switch things up a little – ‘Climate’ features oppressive synths building up to an urgent coda, while ‘Tally Of Souls’, shows that a sparse acoustic guitar also works well as a backdrop for David Okumu’s gently soulful voice. But just as you think the album’s pace has dropped off completely, ‘Time Waits’ smacks you in the face with a blast of raw guitar to take the album out on a high.

The Invisible may have been a surprising nomination, it would surely be an even more surprising winner – but that shouldn’t stop you from giving it a listen. You may well like what you hear.

3: Friendly Fires – Friendly Fires

Friendly Fires - Friendly Fires

Friendly Fires – Friendly Fires

In a review on my previous blog, I called the debut record by Friendly Fires “one of [2008’s] most effortlessly listenable albums”, and I’m sure anyone who’s had this album on repeat will agree with me. From the samba rhythms of ‘Jump In The Pool’, through the wide eyed, hopeful euphoria of ‘Paris’ and the Hot Chip-esque funk of ‘On Board’, all the way to the sinister guitar and dark emotion of ‘Ex Lover’, the band switch styles while maintaining an effortless sense of coherence and flow. Friendly Fires has both hands in the air moments (‘Skeleton Boy’) and touches of understated brilliance  (‘In The Hospital’) – indeed, the only reason that this album doesn’t rank as the best of the Mercury nominees this year in my eyes is that it doesn’t have anything quite as good as the best tracks on the two albums at the top of my list. But that’s just me nitpicking – in reality, the quality of songs on Friendly Fires is so consistently good that it would be as worthy winner as either Two Suns or Primary Colours.

2: Bat For Lashes – Two Suns

Bat For Lashes - Two Suns

Bat For Lashes – Two Suns

Bat For Lashes was a hot favourite to bag the Mercury Prize two years ago with her debut album Fur And Gold, and some would argue she was duly robbed by Klaxons (who, for the record, were surprising but worthy winners in my eyes). She more than deserves a second go round this time though – Two Suns is an absolutely stunning record. Bombastic, jaw-dropping centre-piece ‘Siren Song’ is almost worthy of the prize on its own, while ‘Glass’ and ‘Two Planets’ are both spectacular highlights, featuring thundering drums, atmospheric instrumentation and soaring vocals in equal measure. Crucially, she’s also capable of mixing her ethereal stylings with pop sensibilities, as demonstrated perfectly on singles ‘Daniel’ and ‘Sleep Alone’. She handles her slower numbers well too – ‘Moon And Moon’ is a beautiful piano ballad, and her fragile, haunting duet with Scott Walker on ‘The Big Sleep’ wraps up the album perfectly.

I would certainly have no complaints if Natasha Khan walked away a winner on her second try – the only reason that Two Suns doesn’t make the top of this list is that it’s not as startling a jump forward as Primary Colours is. What it is, however, is a masterful progression from the already very solid foundations of Fur And Gold – this album deserves your attention.

1: The Horrors – Primary Colours

The Horrors - Primary Colours

The Horrors – Primary Colours

Who’d have thought it? This time two years ago, I doubt the Mercury judges were rushing to nominate Strange House – although maybe they should have been, it was miles better than The View’s debut for fuck’s sake. However, two years and one almost completely different album later, The Horrors are on the shortlist, and it’s not hard to see why – critics have fallen head over heels with the band’s second album. Whatever influences you may pick out on Primary Colours, chances are that they were already present in their impressive record collections even around the time of Strange House. This is just them realising their potential by exploring a different set of influences and making a bloody brilliant album.

From the dark, queasy swirls of ‘Mirror’s Image’ through to the astonishing 8-minute soundscape of ‘Sea Within A Sea’, the album rarely falters. ‘Who Can Say’ sees Faris tackle fading love with surprising sincerity as his band create a wall of relentless beats and guitar fuzz, while ‘Scarlet Fields’ is a hazy masterpiece of understated bass and swirling synths. It’s not perfect of course – ‘I Only Think Of You’ drags on for a little too long and ‘I Can’t Control Myself’ isn’t quite as good as everything else in my opinion, but overall these are minor complaints. If you didn’t like The Horrors before, put aside any prejudice you previously had for them and give this a listen – and if you did like them before, prepare to fall in love with them in a whole new way.

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