Kasabian: The Alchemist’s Euphoria review – first album minus Tom Meighan goes for broke
Kasabian always seemed dependent on the chemistry between Serge Pizzorno and Tom Meighan. Pizzorno wasn’t exactly Thom Yorke, pushing the band into wildly uncommercial directions and trusting the audience to follow, but thanks to his musical curiosity and willingness to stray from lad-rock’s desire lines, Kasabian’s catalogue has always had plenty of moments capable of raising an eyebrow. Meighan, on the other hand, provided the visceral connection with their fanbase – the simian frontman in the Liam Gallagher mould, the embodiment of the audience’s aspirations.
Then, of course, Meighan had to go. In 2020, the day after his departure from Kasabian was announced, he was convicted of assaulting his partner, and in due course Pizzorno decided he was going to take centre stage. Now, bands can thrive when a replacement singer comes from within the ranks: Pink Floyd and Genesis seemed to do OK for themselves after the loss of Syd Barrett and Peter Gabriel respectively. Joy Division reconfigured into something just as spectacular, in the form of New Order, despite Bernard Sumner having neither the singing ability nor the lyrical acuity of Ian Curtis. But for every one of those there’s Doug Yule taking charge of the Velvet Underground and recording Squeeze, or the two albums the Doors made with Ray Manzarek and Robbie Krieger singing after the death of Jim Morrison, albums so non-canonical that I defy any but the most committed Doors obsessive to even name them.
What would a Serge-fronted version of Kasabian sound like? Would he reprise the agreeably off-the-wall ventures of his solo project, the SLP, on which he appeared unable to decide whether he wanted to be a rapper or a forger of grand prog concepts? Well, sort of. The seventh Kasabian album nods in those directions without stepping conclusively towards them, and offers up some of the bullish, uptempo rock that sets moshpits roiling. It is generally pretty good fun, too. Rocket Fuel rolls in like the Prodigy, Pizzorno declaiming over a Middle Eastern-style riff, with a bassy thud that hits in the chest, resolving into a soaring refrain. Chemicals has a terrific combination of melodic verse and urgent, arena-sized chorus. Alygatyr is Kasabian as you either know or despise them – mid-paced and brutish in its simplicity. It’s easy to forget how thrilling a rock band being unselfconsciously rockist can be, and Kasabian can be as unselfconsciously rockist as the best or worst of them.
But the rockism doesn’t translate as hoary blues-rock riffs. Pizzorno has as much interest in texture as he does in instrumentation; in making things sound like something else – you’d swear the single Scriptvre opens with an orchestra of ships’ foghorns. In fact he’s so determined to follow every idea that you sometimes wish he’d have fewer of them. The Alchemist’s Euphoria is packed with good ideas, but often they seem shoehorned into songs, rather than part of organic wholes – something that seems increasingly common with digital technology allowing songs to be assembled rather than written in the guitar-and-a-notebook sense (and, perhaps, a reflection of how hip-hop and R&B and their offshoots now pervade music). The songs that feel more conventional – Strictly Old Skool, for example – come as something of a relief as a result.
As a singer, Pizzorno is adequate but unremarkable. His voice is pleasant enough, and it doesn’t feel out of place, but there’s nothing distinctive about it; none of Meighan’s come-and-have-a-go presence. And that presence is needed when you’re delivering lyrics such as: “Jet packs / Life in a simulator / Drip feed / Straight to the incubator.” Pay too much attention and the sense it’s just gibberish becomes overwhelming. They require some sort of attitude to transcend their meaninglessness, and Pizzorno can only really reach that when he’s rapping (on Scriptvre and Rocket Fuel, notably).
Related: Kasabian on sacking their frontman: ‘It was like seeing your house burn down’
The album’s centrepiece is a problem, too: a three-piece suite of apparently “space-inspired tracks”, The Wall, TUE (the ultraview effect) and Stargazr. The first is a generic MOR phone-torch-waver, the third an electronic burble with a cursory verse, while the second spends its last couple of minutes doing the laziest thing a track supposedly about space can do – emulating the sound of early-70s Pink Floyd, right down to the Nick Mason-style rolls around the drum kit.
If this feels like a lot of complaints, at least it’s because Pizzorno offers up so many things that it is very easy to find bits that don’t work. Uniquely among the songwriters associated with lad-rock, he refuses to stand still, between albums or even within them. The Alchemist’s Euphoria is rarely dull, and often hugely entertaining. But one still longs for Pizzorno to make the album that is as great as the breadth of his imagination suggests.
The Alchemist’s Euphoria is released on 12 August.