Kasabian return with their 4th studio album and bring back Dan the Automator on production. Velociraptor! is void of any radio singles for the US market, but is layered and more complex than any other Kasabian album to date. It took over ten listens to get this review right, to get through the texture and truly hear the story that is painted. The need for a few listens to truly appreciate it might turn some casual fans away, but lead vocalist Tom Meighan and crew can probably care less about those fans. So for those who stick it out, there seems to be only one conclusion.
The album opens with “Let’s Roll Just Like We Used To”. Production quality starts out top-notch with Dan the Automator at the helm. The opening song gives the listeners the feeling that the band is on stage with full orchestral backing, and the curtain has just lifted. A few nice touches of audience applause at the end add to that feeling. The start is tempered, but the layers of musical exploration are already present. There’s a backing bass section that drives the song to its consclusion, and all is well with Velociraptor!. “Days Are Forgotten” is the obvious single on the album, and it’s that classic danceable Kasabian sound with a huge chorus from Tom. We also get into some of the weirder elements that are prevalent on this album- and that’s not even taking into account the fact that Tom spews out “chewing a monkey brain” a few times in the song. There are a few levels of odd sounds and backing vocals from guitarist Sergio Pizzorno. You can hear it for yourself below. At first they seem to take away from the song, but you’ll grow to appreciate these oddities through the journey:
The next two tracks slow it down a little, as Kasabian gets into the Oasis-inspired and decidedly English ballads. A simple melody, but a lot of story telling is going on with both “Goodbye Kiss” and “Le Fee Verte”. “La Fee Verte” gives the listener the images of a miniature dancing circus of mice, a carnival of the mind. Seemingly lost at times, and flowing from emotion to emotion, Tom and the band put together one of their better slow songs in recent memory.
Just when you think Kasabian might have grown up past their electro-inspired festival hits, they come right back to their roots with the title track. This one is a little different though, as the song doesn’t make you sit back in your chair with the force of “Club Foot” or “Vlad The Impaler”- No, instead Kasabian invite you to dance with a smile on your face. There is no other way to accept a song with a chorus about a metaphorical Jurassic Park dinosaur. It’s a little odd again, but it works. There is no time to drop off, as the band follows this up with the best song on the album. “Acid Turkish Bath (Shelter from the Storm)” is layered beautifully with deep middle eastern melodies, and a lyrical path worthy of a movie plot. Just when you think you can relax, Kasabian are able to unnerve you again with climbing instrumentals that push the chase scene in your mind forward. This is storytelling through music, and it’s impossible not to feel like you are in the middle of movie with this tune.:
At this point, Velociraptor! is less of that hard-hitting stadium rock, and more of a theatrical debut. It’s broadway at times, and warped carnival at others. “I Hear Voices” falls into that mind carnival category with a beat and melody stolen from an early 90s Mega-Man game. Video game music evolved past this in 1994, but Kasabian are right at home bringing it back for this track. You are almost surprised to hear a song like “Re-wired”- a classic Kasabian song that could come from their first two albums. There’s nothing wrong with the song, but you’ve bought into the theatrical play aspect at this point, and it feels a little weird to go back to early Kasabian. At the 2:40 mark though, they tie the theme back together with a fast paced allusion to “Acid Turkish Bath” and the unsettling nature of the chase:
There’s a small break with “Man Of Simple Pleasures”, their dusty slow down song. Tom’s lyrics paint a picture of struggling to fight the vices and troubles that seem to return to us no matter how hard we try to change. That struggle, and sense of urgency are constant throughout the album. Songs of high anxiety are usually followed by slower realizations that while the pace might be fast, there is no rushing this story to its conclusion. Nothing portrays this better than the next song “Switchblade Smiles”- an edge of your seat thrill ride. There’s no way this song doesn’t destroy people live, it’s going to be amazing to hear. It should have the crowd going nuts, as it builds in a trance-like breakdown at multiple points, only to be rescued by Tom’s reassuring and calm voice. While Sergio provides the anxious anticipation, Tom provides the soothing calm. It all comes to a head though in their dual screams. Dan the Automator was able to take some pretty harsh sounds and mix them nicely into the songs. While some people definitely won’t appreciate it, and it might turn some heads when the songs are played for an audience caught off guard, I started to really enjoy them on the multiple listens. It’s another layer to the tapestry, even though it may be very unconventional. The album closes with the floating and fitting “Neon Noon”. Almost as if salvation has come, its a synth ballad of acceptance that completes an album of many different landscapes.
I have to admit, I was pretty worried about this album after Dan the Automator’s last effort with a band I think highly of, but Kasabian and their now two-time producer have a formula that works well together. Dan adds the pieces, sounds and and creativity that complements the band’s vision- not the other way around. While Velociraptor! is being touted as a bold and loud effort from the band, I find it to be in many ways their most complete yet at times very subtle offering. Gone is the formula of huge hooks and even bigger beats. There is a true picture and story to paint in Velociraptor!. If you can follow and appreciate the story, there is a lot to like here. While most of these songs won’t replace “Club Foot” or “Shoot The Runner” as live musical explosions, together the songs come together to form an album that is very different from West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum, but just as good in different ways. I’ll probably go back to their last album for my “I need it now” Kasabian fix, but if I have time to invest in a collection of songs from the UK stars, it’s possible to reach for Velociraptor! first.
~ Not the instant classic that some outlets are declaring it, but a completely whole effort that distinguishes itself from Kasabian’s other albums. It will take a few listens, but Velociraptor! provides the listener with more than a few highlights throughout a complex narrative.