Songwriter Sergio Pizzorno has been stating that Velociraptor! is Kasabian's "jukebox record," and on the first listen, I understood what he meant. To me it feels like a Master's Thesis in rock and roll; Kasabian's take on almost every genre for the past 50 years. There's the electro-club dance piece ("I Hear Voices"), the hip hop influenced one ("Days Are Forgotten"), the techno-industrial headbanger ("Switchblade Smiles"), the 80s hair-band big rocker ("Re-wired"). With such a wide range of styles, there is something for almost everyone to appreciate. But the truly amazing thing about Velociraptor! is that it is such a unified work for something so ambitiously diverse. It gelled for me immediately, but I know a number of people who have said that it's a grower, that it takes a few listens before it really starts to impress.
There are two things which hold it together - the first and most obvious is the quality of the songwriting. Serge Pizzorno is the man when it comes to writing catchy rock hooks. But it's deceptively simple - a deeper examination reveals the subtle touches on every piece: a syncopated handclap, the sound of a typewriter, a burst of orchestration, a new attention to the gorgeous harmonies created when Pizzorno's soaring voice wraps around Meighan's earthy vocals (as in the chorus to "Let's Roll Just Like We Used To"), or the opposite, when Pizzorno's dreaminess is grounded by Meighan ("Acid Turkish Bath"). Each song is built around a melody, simple, pristine, a big chorus seemingly heading to an apparent culmination, only to have the listener's expectations confounded when the piece twists in an entirely different direction - or two, or three. It's like the movie plot you know you've seen before, which then takes a sudden left turn to a conclusion more satisfying for the surprise. Kasabian has often been accused of being derivative, but that's just careless listening. The band may be unafraid to flaunt its past influences, but they gain new meaning in this different context, in juxtaposition with other influences - which is Pizzorno's real genius. He's a mad scientist in a rock and roll laboratory, splicing together genes from Britpop, traditional Middle Eastern music, even Motown to create rare and beautiful chimeras. This has always been Kasabian's method - on Velociraptor! it's raised to a new level of artistry.
The other impressive aspect is the way the album is structured. It starts with a gong and a piece about boyhood friendships ("Let's Roll Just Like We Used To"). It ends with ethereal synths and a piece contemplating eternity ("Neon Noon"). In between, it ranges from hot sex ("Re-wired") to heartbreak ("Goodbye Kiss"), from world-weary dissolution ("La Fee Verte") to mature self-assertion ("Man of Simple Pleasures"). All this sounds so serious - but it's set against a background of over-the-top rock grandstanding, and quite a bit of cheeky humor. The album is punctuated with the occasional dinosaur growl from Pizzorno, while Meighan delivers the infectiously silly chorus of the title track, "Velociraptor/He gonna find ya/He gonna kill ya/He gonna eat ya," with an intensity appropriate for the second coming of Mick Jagger. And Velociraptor! isn't beyond a sneaky gut-punch...the placement of the punk-pop title track after the dreamy "Fee Verte" is sheer genius - yes, Tom and Serge, I'm awake now! I usually consider myself queen of the mix tape, but I'm very reluctant to listen to any of these pieces out-of-context - I want to hear Velociraptor! in its entirety.
I've actually been trying not to listen to Velociraptor! too much, for fear I'll tire of it...but I realized this morning that it doesn't matter since it's been playing in my head straight on from the first time I heard it. I suppose that's the biggest compliment you can pay to any record.