Kabir Sheikh – Scared New World – Album Review
No surprise to me – this dude rocks a solid solo album.
I’ve listened to Kabir’s music plenty in the past, though always through his band The Silver Bayonets. I liked what I had heard before…I think like most people in this world, I had my favorites of course, but what was good about The Silver Bayonets wasn’t JUST good, it was freakin’ awesome, and clearly Kabir was a large part of the reason as to why that was the case. The last record that I had checked out by them somewhere in the year 2018, called Braveface, cranked out some of the coolest cuts I heard that year…tracks that quite honestly still line my independent playlists to this day. Word on the street is that they’re currently on hiatus as a result of the whole pandemic-era confusion that wreaked havoc on half the bands you know & love. Some have gone on to figure things out and get everything moving again, and others, like Kabir here, have figured out their next moves individually in the meantime until the dust truly settles & what we once knew as ‘normal’ makes an attempt to return.
That being said, sometimes a few less cooks in the kitchen ain’t really all that bad of a thing…and I’d have to say that this album definitely serves to prove that. There’s a chance that the lads of The Silver Bayonets could have talked Kabir out of going with a record full of radio-friendly tracks that will have to battle against their anti-radio length of five-minutes-plus in the majority of this set-list, but other than that trivial aspect which has absolutely nothing to do with ME…I’d tell ya this is some of the best I’ve heard from the man to-date without a doubt. It’s the kind of tightness that basically proves songs that are truly single-worthy don’t all come out in that sweet spot of 3:30 – the way I see & hear it, if you’re doing things right & making your music irresistible to listen to, time shouldn’t be any kind of factor at all, you dig? Like, for as many times as I’ve spun my way through Scared New World, I’m still nowhere near tired of its opening track “Alien” – Kabir could tack another half-hour onto this song and I’d never complain! Amazing energy right from the get-go, this track built on the concept of trying to find that place where you fit in, not only has an seriously relevant, down-to-earth message, but a fantastic way of presenting that to ya, through a story that’ll take ya right outta this world. Sheikh knows his way around a hook though, no doubt about that…he’s got enough of’em in the verses alone that it would have been enough to secure a thumbs-up from ya I’m sure – but what you’ll hear in the chorus is all-out next level.
“Sleepwalking” is…hmm…political lol. To a degree anyhow. At the end of the day, Kabir has tackled this track a bit generically, careful not to play to any one particular side, therefore, kind of being a bit in the middle of the road. I used to be all about political cuts…but that’s been one real major casualty of the pandemic era if you ask me…now I’m just kind of tired of most of it. Both sides seem to have the exact same kind of complaints – and we can’t really both be “Sleepwalking,” can we? I suppose it’s just one of those things…to me, “Sleepwalking” is a loaded charge to be leveled at someone…it’s suggesting that there’s no thought being put into decision making, information filtering, understanding issues…all that – and I’m not even sure I’d consider the other side of any argument I’m on to be like that. For me, it’s a heavy accusation, and for others, I’m sure they couldn’t give two shits…I suppose it’s like the majority of anything in life – if you know who you are and you’re comfortable with that, then nothing else really matters, right? No opinion on what you think about, who you are, or what you believe, should affect us at all if that’s the case, correct? I guess I’m still human to a fault. I believe in debate, rational discussion, and compromise where it’s needed & appropriate…all of which, has become a lost art. I’m exhausted from having to be on defense all day, every day…which is, unfortunately, all by design. Those that want to shut down these lost art forms I referenced want us exhausted…and by my estimation, they’re winning. Kabir’s still raging and ready to battle…and I salute him for that. I think he’s really somewhat put everyone in the crosshairs of this track to a degree…without definitively pinning down who he’s talking about, the scope increases…and instead of as targeted as a song like this could be, it could apply to anyone. So if you feel like you’ve been “Sleepwalking” – or if you’ve been accused of “Sleepwalking” when you swear you’ve been awake…you might feel yourself getting a little amped-up by this track. It sounds good, I’ll definitely concede that happily…it’s a catchy cut, and Kabir sings the daylights out of it.
“So you hate how you feel, and you wish that you were numb, just like everyone else does” – #YUP, he nailed it on “Doesn’t Everyone?” All I know is this…life would be a whole lot damn easier if that was somehow possible…if I could numb myself out from all the BS…if there was a pill I could swallow to make it just fade into the background and stay there…if there was a drink strong enough…I’m getting to that point where I would probably be onboard with that. Kabir does a great job of tapping into how we’re all feeling here in some way, shape, or form…and examines how difficult it is to maintain a positive outlook, despite how crucially important that really is. “Doesn’t Everyone” sure sounds a lot more upbeat than it actually is when you put it underneath the microscope to examine it…when you really get into the words of this track, you realize that it’s not just been you driving yourself insane, but the entire collective of the world more or less. So you betcha…I hate how I feel, I do wish that I was numb, and somehow, knowing that everyone out there is feeling similar…I dunno…it ain’t really as comforting as I think Kabir might think it is! It’s obviously nice to not be alone in some ways, but if we’re all collectively going mad & driving ourselves to insanity with our own thoughts & emotions…I mean – bleh! That’s not helpful information…I’d kind of rather know there’s someone out there unaffected by the crap the world spits out, as opposed to all of us feeling some level of supremely jaded right now. I might not like that fact, but I’d have to say I probably agree with him on that – and “Doesn’t Everyone?”
I have notes here that tell me…a one Andy Delany of Rubicon takes on the vocals at some point in the record…doesn’t say which track specifically, but given that the verses of “Impatient” don’t quite sound like Kabir…I’m gonna go with that being the spot he shows up in. Sounds good – he’s got a real low-key but commanding performance that can flare-up at any moment…in almost like an Ian Astbury type of way, which I dig. What I think I like more than anything else is the fact that Kabir came in to take on the main hooks of the chorus – which is what makes the trade-off between the two singers as dynamic and effective as it is…they’re freakishly brilliant in how complementary they are with each individual style of their vocals – it all stacks up powerfully here. I’m pretty sold on the verses – I think Andy did a stellar job – but it’s one of those things…I think Delany ended up inspiring some of the very best we’ve ever heard out of Sheikh has a result of his guest-appearance on this track. The chorus on “Impatient” ain’t just good – it’s beyond awesome, and it’s easily one of the most memorable moments you’ll find anywhere in the lineup of cuts on Scared New World. Credit where credit is due though – Andy plays a significant role on this track, whether it’s serving the song as the low-toned vocals in this track for the brightness of Kabir’s to break through, or just being that inspiration required to push Sheikh to be at his very best…no matter how you slice it, Delany is outright essential to the DNA of this song, completely. I’m all about collaborations when you can hear that inspires everyone involved to reach for the best in their bag…Kabir’s off-the-charts great here and in another realm entirely, delivering one of the most addictive hooks you’ll hear in 2022 – you simply couldn’t ask any more from these two singers overall.
There’s really just not much of anything that’s been overlooked on this record…Kabir should be mighty proud of that. The songs are all rocking with quality, the instrumentation like the guitar solos on cuts like “Shadows Descending” stand out brilliantly, the vocals are bloody perfection from the lead to the background…the layers of depth in these songs has the kind of detail you wanna hear. Radio might feel a certain type of way about tracks that are more than five-minutes in length, but over here on my playlists, which are far more kickass than anything your FM dial has to offer, tracks like “Shadows Descending” are played as loud as the system here will take’em. A track like “Shadows Descending” really ain’t all that far removed from something like The Killers catalog…you swap in a Sheikh for a Flowers, and bam, you’d be listening to the next industry mega-hit. Which is really a comment on the sorry state of things more than anything else – Kabir nails his part perfectly, and it’s a freakin’ crime that every station out there isn’t rocking this cut at full blast. The reality is, within the independent music scene, AMAZING tunes like “Shadows Descending” get passed over every day by the mainstream – and for those of us savvy enough to know where to find quality cuts like this one & what Kabir’s put into Scared New World, we have to kind of bite our nails & hope that what we love has the support required to carry on. We sincerely should not be living in a world where songs like “Impatient” or “Shadows Descending” are written and not heard by one & all…that’s not an opinion, that’s a fact. It’s distressing just how little attention can be paid at times, when a song with the MASSIVE WORLDWIDE POTENTIAL of “Shadows Descending” could be relegated to a much smaller pool of listeners with better ears than the masses are lucky enough to have. All I know is this Kabir…you’ve written hit after hit on this record, and if the world ain’t paying attention now…they’re the ones in the wrong – if you keep up this consistency & continue doing what you’re doing on Scared New World, you’ll leave’em with no choice but to listen.
And as IF it was on cue in response, “The Outside” comes on in the set-list to be…fairly normal really. I was admittedly, probably the most on the fence about the inclusion of this particular track, but I also look at it this way – Kabir’s pretty much competing only with himself at this point of the record – if “The Outside” was the first track we heard, we’d probably all love it without question. It’s only by comparison to the rest that we start to have any doubts about a track like this, that would be an A-side on most albums, but here in this lineup, ends up sounding just a touch behind the rest & a B-side. Again though – think of it this way…if “The Outside” is the track likely to make the least impact in some way, shape, or form…then Kabir’s in incredible shape – because we’re all still gonna LIKE this tune, I’m just not as convinced we’re all gonna LOVE it as much as we do with the others in the set, you following me? The core strengths of “The Outside” are probably more found within the message and its empowering spirit…it’s a track that encourages us to find our voice, and to use it – and I’ve got nothing but mad respect for that. Sheikh knows how to write tracks that connect on some level or another, each time, doesn’t matter which you choose and “The Outside” is no exception to the rule or standard he’s set – this time around, it’s his words that make the biggest impact on us, and there ain’t nothing wrong with that. It’s those times where absolutely nothing connects at all that you really wanna avoid in making music, and Kabir has no problem at all steering clear of that audible void…there’s always something about his songs that’ll have you willing to listen. I think there are times where we do get caught up in the importance of communicating what we really wanna say that, at times, it can cost us a bit in terms of our objectivity and blind us a bit, simply because we really, really, wanna get that message out there. “The Outside” is a bit like that in my opinion…again, it’s a good tune…I ain’t turning it off, and hell, I ain’t even turning it down either. It might not reach the heights of the rest of the set in my own opinion, but it’s still a genuinely quality cut…if this was YOUR favorite track, I’d still hear where you’re comin’ from.
Where I suppose Kabir’s still got a bit of room for his own growth & evolution would be somewhat narrowing the distance between the verses and choruses he creates. Obviously, we all want a song to take it up a notch when it comes time to reveal the hooks – that’s pretty much fundamental – but what’s genuinely amazing about Sheikh’s music is that quite often, you’ll find the dude cracks the bat so hard in the chorus that it leaves the verses behind in the dust by comparison. Like, for example, I felt like he was on pretty solid ground with something like “Combined (A Better Day)” – I mean, by all accounts, he WAS! Then the chorus comes along, and you’re like, THAT is what I wanna hear. And so it becomes similar to like, how you eat around your favorite part of your meal, saving the best bit for the very end, you know? The verses become the vegetables we eat for nutrition…we might not necessarily always want to, but we do, because we know it’s good for us. The chorus is the main meat of the meal, which we devour ravenously, and try to almost forget we were eating vegetables only moments before. Also, I’m a complete child, so you’ll have to forgive me when it comes to what I do and don’t like to eat. Kabir gets what I mean though, even if we’re loading up our plates with something different – the chorus in a cut like “Combined (A Better Day)” is straight-up unreal, and he’s crushin’ it. The rest surrounding it, is also good…just not quite as incredible as the way the chorus will straight-up MOVE you – and that’s the difference. That’s the gap. If he can somehow get those verses & bridges to come up just a bit more in strength, that’s probably to his benefit overall…use that Dave Grohl method of writing a chorus, using that as your verse instead, and go back to the drawing board to write an even BIGGER chorus…I mean….it’s sound advice, and proven to work at that. Anyhow. If it sounds like I’m complaining, that’s completely on me – I’m not – I think the world of a song like “Combined (A Better Day)” and that the dynamics really get the most out of the hooks when it comes right down to it, I’m simply musing on what Kabir can go on to do from here, should he choose to keep goin’ the solo route. “Combined (A Better Day)” borrows more from the Feeder school of sound & songwriting design-wise – and I’m all about it when it comes to the real payload here…the main hooks will give you everything from mosh-pit moments to lighters-up anthem potential, and all at once – not many songs can DO that.
Again, I come back around to the point that, just having a part in a song as monumental and amazing as what this dude has written into “Combined (A Better Day)” is already rare and priceless…and we should never lose sight of what an accomplishment that actually is. To counter the point I just made myself, a song like “When Tomorrow Comes” is a lot closer in the dynamics between its verse and chorus – but without that one majorly addictive hook that a song like “Combined (A Better Day)” or “Impatient” comes along with, it’s almost too even across the board as a result. I know, I know – clearly I want everything every which way, and it’s impossible to satisfy me across the board…that’s what it seems like, don’t it? I swear it’s not true…and I know that, because I’ve never once skipped over a single song on Scared New World, and I think the record as a whole, is definitely some of the strongest stuff I’ve heard this year when it comes to the attention to detail & overall execution. So take that! If it sounds like I’ve been bellyachin’ it’s simply me doing my level best to get Kabir to think of that next step on his journey forward…and ultimately, the man’s proven on this record alone that the last thing he really needs is any of my advice anyhow. I’d imagine he knows which songs connect the strongest and which ones have a bit of room in that regard – “When Tomorrow Comes” is another solid cut you can rely on, but it doesn’t quite have that major X-factor that Sheikh has revealed to us throughout so many other cuts in this set.
“Twenties” is full of incredible quotes that I could pull, and I’d keep us happily here until next week if I did – that’s how many great lines are found within this one song. It’s somewhat political in the same regard as “Sleepwalking” was early on in the lineup, but I suppose I felt like this one hit things closer to the mark a bit more accurately and directly. You’ll also find the title of the record itself woven into the main hooks of the chorus too…all-in-all, it’s a song with stellar energy and something real to get across to ya – which I dig. Honestly, of all bands, it actually reminds me a lot of songs you’d probably think of from the Midnight Oil catalog…it’s got that mix of real Rock energy & activism at the roots…don’t get me wrong & don’t get it twisted, I still like a good politicized tune, it’s just a more exhaustive subject within the musical realm right now as it’s something on everyone’s mind, and art imitates life, as they say. This cut makes its points more clearly, and pretty much holds the mirror up to everyone in some way, shape, or form…it’s not really looking to take sides, though there are hints at points along the way. “We’re not looking to the future, just repeating history” seems like a good quote to pull out for ya…and loaded with real truth, so far as I can tell. When “Twenties” isn’t focused on the lockdown aspect that brought Kabir here to the solo side of his career, I also agree with the points being made about our rights being rolled back, fascism creeping into our daily life, and “in a post-truth world it’s not what you prove, but what you make people believe” – like I said, there are many great things being said within this one song that y’all should be paying close attention to. In a Scared New World, we’re all confused, we’re all missing the point, and we’ve all “lost our minds” like Sheikh tells ya. It’s true as far as I can tell – even the sanest amongst us are having an extremely difficult time navigating themselves into the future ahead without being dragged backwards by a bunch of zealots that can no longer tell right from wrong – or worse, care to know the difference. So there’s no doubt about it…as a species, we’re in some serious trouble right now – Kabir highlights that perfectly on “Twenties” and gives you a song that should keep you awake at night, wondering if everything is really gonna be okay. Despite “Twenties” upbeat vibe and stellar beat – at the core of it all is a nightmarish concept come to life…and I know this, because we’re all living in it.
Amongst the most ambitious cuts on the record, “Still Broken” at the very end of the album, tops the eight-minute mark…and I’d say that collectively, we’ll pretty much all be cool with that considering its placement. If it was in the middle of the record, there’s a chance we might feel differently…but right at the end, it feels like it’s appropriate…like it somehow makes sense as the right note to go out on. I also really dig the bass-lines in this tune & the production overall…the lyricism/storyline that Sheikh puts into this track also delivers, and the way he sings it gives the song a haunting, contemplative, and thought-provoking air to its atmosphere. A good balance between some of the hardest hitting moments that you’ll find on Scared New World musically and also some of its most delicate – Kabir travels between the two extremes and gives this last track a bit of a Progressive touch with the depth of its design. All-in-all, I ain’t complaining…like I said, I think I probably would have felt different if it had another spot in the lineup, but where it is now…it feels seriously conclusive, and delivers a real finale to Scared New World that works exceptionally well. Dude packs a lot of punch into this song when it comes right down to it. I think that just about every other track on the record provides more accessibility in all honesty – but that’s not always the paramount aspect of songwriting or self-expression, you know? It’s a great quality to have, sure – but it’s not always the right method to employ when you’ve really got something to say. Sometimes trading in the flashy hooks for more substantial themes and sound can be a really great idea, and I’d say that’s what you’ll find in this final track. It’s not that “Still Broken” doesn’t have hooks of its own – it does…but I’d say they’re far from being the real priority on this last cut. “Still Broken” is about summation…about describing where we’re at right now, and pointing out how far we’ve got left to go in the healing process of everything that Kabir’s pointed out along the way. A Scared New World we most certainly are…and a Scared New World we will likely be for quite some time still. On the bright side, we’ve got music and art to keep us entertained whilst we ram this Titanic we call Earth into the iceberg of oblivion…these parts of our lives make the uncomfortable bearable, providing us with hope & possibility for change, and communicating the notion that perhaps all is not yet lost. We’re clearly “Still Broken,” for the moment at least, but with any luck, we might be able to somehow avoid our tragic end.
Find out more about Kabir Sheikh at his official website: https://kabirmusic.uk
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