Plumbiferous Media

The West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum – Kasabian

Jun 18th 2009
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The West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum - KasabianKasabian
The West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum
Score: 42

Kasabian released their third album, The West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum, earlier this month, and it is no exception to the band’s record of popularity. Kasabian wasted no time in reaching high UK chart positions; its first self-titled album hit number four and the next, Empire, rose all the way to the top. Kasabian’s newest album has also peaked at the number one spot, but The West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum does not quite live up to its hype.

Two main problems affect the entire album. The first and foremost of these problems is the fuzz. Throughout most of the album each instrument is masked by a heavy dose of fuzz, distortion, or a similar effect – it even reaches the vocals on more than one occasion. While this may provide the band with an easy method of achieving some sort of passion on some tracks (“Underdog” is the best example of well used effects), the fuzz simply does not fit on others. Asylum‘s instrumental track, “Swarfiga” is completely muted and smoothed over, leaving what can only be described as instrumental mush. Even though on any other album it would easily be forgotten, “Fire” is one of the most astonishing tracks on the album simply because, for the first time, all of the muting and fuzz is completely removed, leaving a much brighter, clean sound. Even the drums, which earlier remained mostly on a soft-cymbal filled beat, accompanied by a softer bass drum, suddenly experience an enormous jump in quality.

The second problem is in the generally uninteresting instrumental lines. While any line may seem intriguing initially, it invariably ends up quickly moving into repetition, leaving only the vocals to direct each track. Of course, when Tom Meighan stops singing for an instrumental interlude, the result often sounds like a solo section with the solo line removed.

Tom Meighan’s voice is immediately recognizable for its particular style – a slight drone which nevertheless manages to remain interesting. The variety of styles which Meighan takes on over the course of The West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum lend the album a substantial degree of diversity, preventing it from blending into itself. However, at the same time, his vocal lines are at best bland and at worst irritating, which this variation cannot completely excuse.

Meighan’s vocals flit between an easy relationship with the instrumental line (see “Underdog”) and horrible clashing which degrades both the line and his vocals (such as on “Where Did All the Love Go?”), and it is during the latter tracks that the weaknesses in Meighan’s vocals become all too clear. Though his vocals are generally at least interesting, in these cases they occasionally slip into a sort of screech, which is not ameliorated by the distortion pervading the album. But for the most part, Meighan’s vocals are a source of interest for Asylum even if, among his myriad vocal styles, it’s quite difficult to find a single style which is especially notable.

Though Meighan’s vocals are interesting if not phenomenal, the dreadful lyrics don’t help the album at all. Throughout Asylum, the lyrics seem less chosen to evoke a message, image or feeling than to rhyme, regardless of what they consist of or sound like. Meighan repeats lines like “Oh take aim now” (in that case over ten times), which prevents many tracks from truly progressing as their worst or most banal lines are repeated incessantly.

Happily, the absolute worst lines of Asylum generally aren’t repeated – it would be truly painful to hear the nonsensical mess represented by lyrics such as “I’m a Lucifer’s child, wild, acid done / Black sunglasses shade the morning sun, and come get me / All you fuckers can’t touch me / I’m a hooligan choir, sire.” Even when Asylum has its few truly excellent lyrical episodes, such as the introduction to “Thick As Thieves:” “Here we were, thick as thieves / Frightened by shadows in the autumn leaves,” they’re quickly swallowed up by the repetition of weaker lines. All considered, in terms of lyrics, Asylum is less abysmal than simply confusing – why would Kasabian write such weak lyrics and then swallow up their best efforts with tired phrases?

The West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum is not an amazing success for Kasabian. From overly distorted, uncreative instrumentals to interesting but somewhat lacking vocals and perplexingly awful lyrics, Asylum is filled with places where Kasabian could have easily improved to create a much better album. Asylum doesn’t so much suffer from a lack of talent as a lack of creative impulse – to the point where the short spoken word sample at the beginning of “West Rider Silver Bullet” demonstrates that “emus in the zone” are quite possibly the highest creative level Kasabian reached on this album. But even so, The West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum is not awful (excepting, perhaps, the lyrics), but simply disappointing.

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