I like Primal Scream. I think their blend of rock and electronica provides some of the most consistently challenging dance music of the last 13 years (if I have the release date of their brilliant mission statement, Screamadelica right), and if one can ignore their lyrics (which, honestly, is a concept one must utilize with most dance music), there’s plenty to like.
I like the Lo-Fidelity Allstars. Their sound may initially sound derivative of a group like Primal Scream or The Stone Roses, but their sheer bombast and close adherence to the idea that techno need not be austere, empty, beat driven, migraine inducement, but instead can be funk, melodic and poppy, puts them on every dance party mix I’ve ever made.
I should like Kasabian, a group already receiving massive hype in the UK press for their self titled debut, a fusion of rock and techno that hasn’t been seen since … well … the last Lo Fidelity Allstars album two years ago. The elements are all here- the band has a full lineup, including a very skilled drummer who knows how to use a simple bass-drum pattern to bring all the party people out to the dance floor, a keyboard player who has clearly studied up on old organ riff from both ? and the Mysterians and James Brown songs, and club-friendly track names like “Butcher Blues,” “Processed Beats,” and, for the goth fans “LSF (Lost Souls Forever).” Unfortunately, the group is simply too indie for their own good.
If you’ve ever been to a concert by an indie-approved dance group like Hot Hot Heat, The Fever, or (recently) Modest Mouse, then you’ve surely seen the types. Sipping away on their first (and only) beer, with crossed arms, one leg slightly bent, equally mocking and scowling at audience members who are dancing, flailing, or otherwise freaking out and enjoying the music, the indie concert goes begs the question- if you’re going to go to a concert just to stay sullen and look, ahem, “cool,” then why bother showing up? I’m sure there’s a music store just down the street where you can go make fun of people buying Coldplay CDs.
And, sadly, Kasabian would be the guys, right up front, standing completely rigid. Sure, their bassist may occasionally nod his head, and the drummer will tap his feet and smile when the skinsman on stage pulls off that difficult fill, but soon both of them will resort to stoicism after getting nasty looks from the singer. If this were a CD of rock songs that simply had techno elements, then my major gripe would be with the lyrics on the CD, but you get the idea the band really wants people to get their freak on to this, so the problems run much deeper. All the band needs to do is forget about being cool for a moment and attempt the music equivalent of a double flying jump kick. “Processed Beats” has a great, danceable riff, and, typical of clubland, a paper-thin refrain of “I ran from the tide / Won’t let you hide, Won’t let you hide.” But singer Sergio Pizzorno sleepwalks through his delivery with nary one sign that he really cares whatever it is he is singing about. Of course, it would be easy for a person to throw back the example of Primal Scream, whose singer Bobby Gillespie’s delivers his words with a syrupy haze. His voice, I would argue can be energetic when it needs to (see “Rocks” for proof), but usually is much more fitting accompanying the slow, drug-fueled song that Primal Scream are prone to writing. With Pizzorno, it sounds like he just can’t keep up with his backing band, but also like he doesn’t really want to. The idea of putting energy and passion into his delivery would require breaking the sullen image he projects. Over an amazing bassline and menacing keyboard line in “I.D.” Pizzorno mumbles, “music is my world,” and the listener is left wondering whether he means the statement ironically, or whether that’s actually all the enthusiasm he can muster.
In fact, the album’s absolute best song is one of only a few downbeat numbers on the album, “Butcher Blues.” The track might work because of its warmer production, its Albini sounding drums and bass, or its eastern-tinged keyboards. More likely, though it’s the lack of struggle between Pizzorno’s indifferent delivery and the track’s serene music. In this instance, the elements all come together to make a song that wouldn’t sound out of place on “Screamadelica.” Closer “U-Boat” (the rationale for the title evades me, except perhaps as a shout out to Primal Scream’s controversial, “Swastika Eyes”), evokes Muse, of all things, and thanks to another unexpected and well placed drum beat, the tracks ends the album on a high note.
But really, all one needs to do to really see this CD’s place among other techno rock hybrid acts is to compare its album art to other bands. Primal Scream art is colorful, blurry, and basically the equivalent of viewing the world after a bowl or two. The Lo Fidelity Allstars take a grittier approach, but their collage-artwork still intrigues, as does the lack of any band photos. In contrast, the artwork for Kasabian is cold, and brings up imagery of communist Russia. In their individual shots in the booklet, the band let forth their most dour Gap-model expressions. Only one question, guys; isn’t dance music supposed to make people happy?