Stardate: Summer 2006. As these words are being written, Kasabian are jetlagged, but happy. Three days ago, they returned from Mexico City, where a disused supermarket full of saucer-eyed devotees treated them like returning heroes. "They even sang along to the keyboards in Processed Beats," exclaims Serge Pizzorno. And then when we did the new stuff. It was..." Pizzorno is rarely lost for words. When he is though, here's Tom Meighan to pick up the baton "...legendary. I've never felt a force like it."
Can a record be legendary before it has even come out? You might think you know Kasabian. After all, the dissolute Glimmer Twins of the post-Britpop firmament made no secret of their sources on that eponymous first album. A couple of years after Meighan and Pizzorno met in Leicester, aged 11, it was 1993 and Oasis were making the rock'n'roll dream seem like a goal attainable to a generation of schoolkids. Recorded at the now-mythical farm where they arrived for a party and never got around to leaving, Kasabian's eponymous debut bypassed most critics and connected dramatically with an audience that recognised them as one of their own just as Oasis had done with Meighan and Pizzorno in 1993.
'Kasabian' sold over 700,000 in the UK and the band were the undisputed victors of last year's festivals, putting in bristling performances at Glastonbury, Reading/Leeds and T In The Park. But if a debut album is all about showing your influences, this is the point where Kasabian truly show us who they are. The first thing you'll notice about Empire is that no other band in the world could have created it. The confidence is perhaps understandable given the lack of fanfare with which they managed to instantly shift 8000 tickets for their Ally Pally show last year. But the scale of its vision though is something else entirely.
Asked a while back to describe the album's eponymous opener, Meighan's instant response was, "Marc Bolan smoking crack with Dr Who." "No other band apart from Radiohead would have the balls to put in a tempo change like that," adds Pizzorno. Under the circumstances, you decide it's impolite to tell him that Radiohead didn't get actually around to it until their third album. This time around the demonic amyl throb of Serge's electronic soundscapes feed into the very core of Kasabian's music. The flood of ideas is unstoppable. Propelled along by handclaps and Ian Matthews' inspired Studio 54 style drum fills, the filthy analogue glambience of Shoot The Runner will be inescapable between now and Christmas. Last Trip, appropriately, comes on like a postcard from the furthermost outpost of a 4am bender Meighan's brittle, anxious exhortations leading the way over an arrangement which recalls a beefier version of Suicide's primitive electro-pulse. Three songs in and Empire already sounds like an index of rock'n'roll possibilities.
"Did you like the strings?" smiles Meighan, running a hand through his newly acquired facial fur. He's talking about Sunrise, the point at which you realize Kasabian have, well... set the controls for the heart of the sun. "It's hard to talk about that song without sounding arrogant. But it sounds... royal. Do you know what I mean? Proud." Pizzorno elaborates. "It's just going that extra mile. The point about the strings is that they're not just there to fill out the sound. It's already huge by that point." It's not the first raga rock paean to lysergic love, you tell him, but at the same time it's hard to recall a rock'n'roll song on which Indian strings have deployed so sharply. "They're actually Moroccan raο players," he smiles, "Indian strings? It's been done, mate."
Where to from here? Just as Screamadelica and Dig Your Own Hole key chapters in Kasabian's back pages took you on a journey that was tantamount to an out-of-body experience, nothing can quite prepare you for the direction in which Empire heads. While much of Kasabian was forged in the crucible of an uncertain wider world, Empire is a more personal record. A memoir of two extreme years on the road in which the only constant was the friendships that created the band in the first place. A postcard from an unreal world. Placed right in the middle of it all is Aponea two minutes of misfiring jackhammer beats and febrile babble which, at a stroke turn the cocksure swagger of the previous songs outside in. "Aponea," explains Pizzorno, "is when you lose your breath in your sleep. And you... panic." Venturing deeper into (if you will) the K-hole. By My Side and Stuntman are the first songs to suggest that even in the darkest hour, it might just be love that will pull you back. And so halfway through Stuntman, the familiar swagger of yore tentatively returns sleek, metronomic, sexy as fuck, haemorrhaging white noise until, by the end, that's all there is.
When it comes to taking the credit for their music, Kasabian rarely need to be encouraged. In this case though, they're swift to acknowledge the invaluable input of producer Jim Abbiss who, according to Meighan, "was very good at dealing with situations in the studio." Was that necessary? One imagines that when a double act like Meighan and Pizzorno disagree, they must really disagree. "Actually, we bicker," says Meighan, "But it's only ever when we're drunk. You know that Hot Chocolate song, It Started With A Kiss? Well, with us, it ends with a kiss, but starts with a bottle. But Jim kept our heads clear, so that there was no anxiety, like 'what the fuck are we gonna do next?'"
Presumably that explains why the bulk of Empire took just five weeks to record, with Kasabian writing new material right up to the wire. Coming right at the end of a record described by Meighan as "full of heart", British Legion and The Doberman seem to sum up the prevailing spirit, the latter featuring Morricone-esque brass and Chris Edwards' dynamic and hypnotic bass lines. When you've returned from the mellee punching the air to old and new faves like Processed Beats and Shoot The Runner, British Legion might insidiously end up being your favourite Kasabian song. When Pizzorno yes, Pizzorno this time sings, "She brings the light that catches me again" over delicately picked acoustic guitar, it sets off a Mexican wave of goosebumps. The first take is the take you hear. By the time a sparse rhythm ushers in the "we're gonna make it through" coda, it's hard not to anticipate pinky-yellow festival sunsets and 30,000 backing vocalists walking it home.
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