Ah, Kasabian. Standard-bearers of modern guitar music or the swaggering embodiment of beer-chucking, lowest common denominator lad-rock? Ever since they first appeared 10 years ago, the Leicestershire quartet have sharply split opinion. Ever since the demise of Oasis, they’ve been the band for whom the phrase ‘great lads, proper music’ has been used to both decry and defend.
Yet there’s no doubt that Kasabian do what they do very well. They sell out stadiums and arenas (and will be headlining Glastonbury later this month), singer Tom Meighan makes for a charismatic frontman and songs such as Club Foot, Shoot The Runner and Fire sound huge and impressive (if slightly nonsensical). If their albums have been somewhat patchy, defacto band leader Serge Pizzorno obviously knows how to write a decent rock anthem.
Sadly, decent rock anthems are very much conspicuous by their absence on 48:13. The music on Kasabian’s fifth album is as uninspired and dull as the album title (simply the running time of the album) and dreadful cover-art – 48:13 surely boasts the worst album cover since Hard-Fi‘s Once Upon A Time In The West – would suggest. For, no matter what flaws Kasabian’s previous records had, you could never accuse them of a lack of energy: here, it’s shocking how flat and lacking in life a lot of the tracks are.
Alarm bells rang a few weeks ago when lead single Eez-Eh was released – everything about it, from the title down to the truly terrible lyrics (“everyone’s on bugle, now we’re being watched by Google” is already a shoo-in for worst line of the year) felt like a comedy act slyly and satirically parodying Kasabian. Except this actually was Kasabian. And they were serious.
For there’s a sense of self-importance and pomposity about 48:13 that becomes tough to listen to after a while. While they’ve never been the most self-aware of bands (even Jonny Borrell, when confronted with the costumes for the cover of West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum, would probably say that they’re “a little but much”), there’s always been something fun and tongue-in-cheek about them as well. That’s disappeared now, leaving us with an album full of doomy, self-important electro-rock that becomes a bit of a slog to listen to.
It does start well though, with the epic sound of Bumblebeee bringing back memories of the glory days of LSF, although the chorus of “I’m in Ecstasy, Ecstasy” does seem like it would be more suited to the early ’90s when allusions to drugs still seemed a bit shocking. The pulsating Doomsday also injects some of the old energy into proceedings – even if it does seem to dip into ska at one point – and there’s an intriguing new departure towards the end of the album which hints at a whole new direction.
That direction is resolutely unexplored during the rest of the album though – Stevie will no doubt be utilised by television editors looking to soundtrack a montage featuring England’s football captain during the World Cup, but it’s pretty stodgy rock with cliched lyrics about “living to fight another day”. Treat is the centrepiece of the album and has a pleasingly funky introduction, but at nearly seven minutes it feels dangerously over-stretched, while Clouds is a sub Primal Scream knock-off, full of distorted vocals and lyrics about “letting go” and “rising above the clouds”.
Lyrics have never been the band’s strongest point, but 48:13 is a particular low point, especially when politics are being addressed. The aforementioned Eez-Eh is the biggest culprit – as well as the infamous ‘bugle/Google’ line, there are also gems like “The wrong men have the power, it’s turning my milk sour” and “Horsemeat in the burgers, people commit murders”. Nothing quite comes close to the philosophical musing of Glass however, which starts by asking the question “Are we made of glass? Nobody knows” and ends with a spoken word section from rapper Suli Breaks who reveals that the biggest criminals in the world wear a suit and a tie. It’s impossible to hear it without conjuring up visions of Rik Mayall in The Young Ones shouting “Right, kids?”.
However, album closer S.P.S. makes for a striking ending, sounding totally different to what’s come before – an almost pastoral folk ballad in which the band put aside the belligerent rock for a moment to reveal a more sensitive side. It’s a sound that suits them, and one that, had it been explored a bit further throughout 48:13, may have made for a more successful record. Although it will undoubtedly be adored by Kasabian’s fiercely loyal army of fans, to the unconverted 48:13 sounds like a band running perilously low on ideas.