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Kasabian on their new album...
“The third record is the one you're judged on” says Serge Pizzorno, referring to the band's extraordinary new album The West Rider Pauper Lunatic Asylum.
“It's where you've established yourself and people find out who you really are. In terms of success we've breached the walls. Now it's time to destroy the system from within.”
Two years in the making, West Rider is the sound of a band at the peak of their powers. A fifty-two minute mash up of sky-scraping melodies, electro-punk riffs, Morricone-esque symphonics, Mariachi stomps and psych-pop lullabies, it is both a stadium sized declaration of intent and a bar-raising benchmark for rock music in 2009. Even better, It also flies in the face of disposable pop culture.
“The album was inspired by movies like (Alejandro Jodorowksy's) Holy Mountain ” says Serge. “It's the soundtrack to an imaginary movie. We want to encourage people to listen to it as whole. At the moment people are being encouraged to pay seventy nine pence to download one song, and I think that really underestimates what genuine music fans want to listen to. We wanted to make an album which takes the listener on a journey.”
Getting here has been a process which started in 2007. As with all great albums, it's been a tale of passion, perseverance and more than a few long dark nights of the soul. When touring commitments for chart topping second album Empire (sales to date: nine hundred thousand and counting) finally came to an end, the band found themselves crash-landed back in Leicester, forced to re-adapt to everyday life.
“We were on the road for four years straight“ says Tom. “We played everywhere from baseball stadiums in Japan to supermarkets in Mexico. By the end of it we were like vampires, feeding off the road. Suddenly you're sitting at home with nothing to do. It did my fucking head in.”
While Tom bounced off the walls, Serge wrote. “Empire was a difficult time,” acknowledges the guitarist. “We lost a member (original guitarist Chris Karloff) and we needed to get something out quickly. This time I wanted to take my time and create something on a grander scale. You're always told that you should write ten hit singles, but we thought: 'let's throw it out of the window and go even more mental.”
Recording at home and in the band's own studio in a disused shoe factory- stocked with “mad amps, guitars with three necks and ancient synths”- Serge set about getting the symphonies inside his head down on tape.
”In my house I've got a tiny little room with a computer, a couple of synths and guitar” he explains. “I'd spend hours working on tunes. I've always liked concept albums – Pepper's, The Small Faces ‘ Ogdens Nut Gone Flake’, The Pretty Things ‘S.F Sorrow’, and I realised I wanted to write songs which worked together as a whole. The buzz you get at three o’clock in the morning when you’ve got a beat going and the verse and chorus come together is what it’s all about for me.”
A tantalising glimpse of these sonic experiments arrived with the release of 'Fast Fuse' as a download only single in Sept 2007. An NME Track Of The Week complete with the couplet: “I’m Lucifer’s child wild acid’s done/ Black sunglasses shade the morning sun”, it was a reminder that when it comes to writing rock'n'roll anthems, Pizzorno has no equal (if that's not recommendation enough, it's also Liam Gallagher's favourite Kasabian tune).
“Fast Fuse' is a modern day rock'n'roll classic” says Tom. “It's a punch in the stomach. A bullet between the eyes. The words are almost like the Wu Tang Clan. As far as rock’n’roll songs to spit in someone’s faces go, we've nailed it. “
By the middle of last year, Pizzorno had fine-tuned an album's worth of material. However, ever the perfectionist, he decided to seek a second opinion.
“We finished the album and it was ready to go,” says Serge. “I'd produced it, and the label were happy to put it out as it was. But I took a step back and thought I wanted someone else's ear. So I asked Dan the Automator ( aka hip-hop legend Dan Nakamura) whether he would be up for working on it. For me, DJ Shadow's 'Entroducing' was a massive record, so I knew I could trust his opinion.”
Starting in San Francisco in August 2008, the pair set about stripping back the layers of samples and riffs amassed in Serge’s studio to discover the soul of the songs within. “Looking back, it was only seventy per cent finished before I started working with Dan. He was a great person to bounce ideas off. We put more emphasis on Tom's vocals and gave the songs room to breathe. Suddenly the true nature of the album revealed itself.”
Opening with 'Underdog' which finds Tom at full stretch, singing “I live my life on a lullaby”, West Rider pulsates with ideas, energy and-crucially-cracking tunes. From the slinky techno pulse of 'Swarfiga' to the Kinks-esque 'Thick As Thieves' it builds to the pivotal ‘West Rider Silver Bullet’, a duet between Tom and Sin City actress Rosario Dawson.
“We met Rosario at the Isle Of Wight when she came to see us” explains Tom. “We wanted a proper rock’n’roll duet on the record –like Lee and Nancy, Serge and Jane, so she was perfect. It’s about two lovers racing towards the sunset- a total crazed acid vibe.”
First single 'Vlad The Impaler', meanwhile, is a turbo-rock anthem to top even 'Empire'. ”Vlad is a total chaos tune” enthuses Serge. “It's a call out to all our people, the ones who are tuned into our radio station. I also love the idea of sitting in a room with all your enemies heads on spikes.”
If haunting arabesque 'Secret Alphabets' (inspired by the lyrical breakthroughs of Bob Dylan noted in Mick Farren's 'Give The Anarchist A Cigarette') is a nod to the band’s interest in '60's counterculture, there’s a lyrical depth at work often missed by those overwhelmed by their sonic onslaught.
‘Where Did All The Love Go?’ addresses the daily carnage of ‘Broken’ Britain in 2009 (“The rivers of the pavement are now flowing now with blood/ The children of the future are drowning in the flood”);
‘Take Aim’, meanwhile, addresses a society where the class divide is exacerbated by TV game shows (“Bribe them and give them star prizes/Lock them away in high rises”).
If the overall feel is of Ray Davies’ ‘Village Green’ paved over, sold off and replaced by a madhouse, there's also a conceptual thread linking all the songs. “Fast Fuse’ is about this wild kid who’s been put into the asylum” explains Serge. “He’s desperate to get out, but he doesn’t know how.”
A final ‘Happiness’, however, is a strung-out serenade to the good times. “I wanted to end the album on a positive note” says Serge. “There’s a lot of bad news around at the moment but we wanted to show people there is light at the end of the tunnel, you’ve just got to believe in yourself.”
And ‘The West Rider Pauper Lunatic Asylum’ itself? “It’s about people escaping somewhere else when they take drugs. It’s a place of opposites-where paupers can become princes. The way things are at the moment, it seems like a good place to be.” Indeed. Just as Entroducing and Dig Your Own Hole, key chapters in Kasabian’s history, defined the times, The West Rider Pauper Lunatic Asylum seems destined to soundtrack the end of the decade. Let the madness begin.