Britpop’s Next Step

Photo courtesy of Sony Records

Kasabian albums tend to announce themselves ominously; their latest, West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum, is no exception. Track one is called “Underdog,” but don’t be fooled: Kasabian’s dark horse is a tough one. “Kill me if you dare,” frontman Tom Meighan challenges an anonymous foil as tantalizing synths creep into the song’s forefront.  Like their most memorable tracks, it instantly transforms into a nervy call to arms—a survivalist love letter to misfits far and wide. Kasabian are enigmatic by choice–pop vigilantes who call themselves “the last beatniks” and “lost heretics” on West Ryder’s manic funk track “Vlad the Impaler.” “I think we’ll keep people guessing forever,” says guitarist and songwriter Sergio Pizzorno of his band’s media status. “No one’s ever going to get it right. It’s going completely baffle them every time.”

Album and ticket sales indicate that someone does get it. In the past month, they’ve sub-headlined under reunited Britpop veterans Blur at Glastonbury, given their old friends Oasis a run for their money as openers at Wembley stadium and, with West Ryder, been nominated for the Mercury Prize. On the album, produced by Dan the Automator, glam, krautrock, Eastern folk, and hip-hop influences are more prevalent than “Baggy” ever was. “Underdog” and lead single “Fire” feature defiant choruses worthy of the Gallagher brothers, while the evil pace and barking delivery of “Fast Fuse” recall turn-of-the-millennium Primal Scream. “Where Did All the Love Go?” proves that, if Kasabian make Britpop, it’s the kaleidoscopic type–they’ve discovered sitars.

Perhaps the most British thing about Kasabian, though, is their imperial styling. Ironic or not, it permeates everything they do: on West Ryder’s album cover, they are dressed in Napoleonic garb (Pizzorno describes it as “fancy dress at the Christmas ball at the asylum”); their videos feature romantic narratives and artful camera work; they have a song and album called “Empire.” Even the band members, particularly resident “dark prince” Pizzorno, are remarkably regal-looking. At their recent Brixton Academy gig, I watched an indefatigable crowd faithfully carry the final strains of the band’s signature hit, “LSF (Lost Souls Forever)” into the streets of Brixton long after the band had left the stage.