As bands go, Britain’s Kasabian is a tough nut to crack. They’re musically eclectic and ambitious, yet they tend to over-rely on their many influences—most prominently The Rolling Stones, The Stone Roses, Primal Scream and, of course, Oasis, with whom they share a similar level of loudmouthed pretension. Unquestionably overrated across the pond but not nearly as bad as some of their detractors would like you to believe, they’re also a tough band to assess completely free of bias, having been heavily hyped since their 2004 self-titled debut and spent their years since trying to live up to it.
The quartet’s previous effort, 2009’s West Ryder Pauper Lunatic Asylum, damn near did. The album was a wildly diverse, adventurous ride with flourishes of everything from world music to krautrock, but it was also messy and scattershot, never quite cohering to form a bigger picture. It seemed all Kasabian needed to do was sharpen their focus and hone in on their experimentations. With Velociraptor!, guitarist Sergio Pizzorno’s songs themselves are much more tight and focused and stand alone just fine, and singer Tom Meighan displays a wider vocal range than ever before. But in the context of the overall album, they’re stylistically all over the place and still fail to achieve a cohesive end result. With abundant confidence, Kasabian throws against their canvas everything from energetic rave-ups (the title track) to no-frills rock ‘n’ roll (“Days Are Forgotten,” its resemblance to Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song” uncanny), nervous, nightmarish electro (“Switchblade Smiles”), mystical Eastern moodscapes (“Acid Turkish Bath”), syrupy Britpop (“Goodbye Kiss”) and druggy, Beatles-esque ballads (“La Fée Verte,” “Neon Noon”). There’s something commendable about a group that can slip in and out of musical costumes so fluidly, and Kasabian often sounds like a completely different band from track to track, which makes Velociraptor! a fun, surprise-filled listen where you never quite know what they’ll do next.
That said, it’s far from a perfect album, and the key reason it doesn’t quite gel is exactly that: While Kasabian has proven its ability to construct impressive, tightly-wound songs that succeed on their own terms as genre exercises of sorts, they haven’t been able to blend those disparate elements together into something they can truly call their own. Though the melodies, harmonies and instrumental layering on Velociraptor! are consistently strong and sophisticated, it still sounds like the band is retreading the ground of the Madchester scene, the Screamadelica rave-culture sound and, of course, that whole quasi-Eastern vibe The Beatles pioneered. Kasabian has all the makings of a great band: real songwriting talent, a desire to span multiple styles, a keen sense of space and atmosphere, and plenty of swagger and groove—and they have tremendous potential to make the groundbreaking, “instant-classic” album they’re clearly striving for. But until they learn a thing or two about thematic cohesion and find their individual voice as a group, that album will remain just beyond their grasp.