Enter Shikari – A Kiss For The Whole World (Album Review)
Enter Shikari – A Kiss For The Whole World
Released: April 21st, 2023
Rou Reynolds | Vocals, Synths
Chris Batten | Bass, Backing Vocals
Rob Rolfe | Drums
Rory Clewlow | Guitar, Vocals, Theses
I love Enter Shikari. I’m 28 years old and have spent over half my life listening to them. Their November 2022 Australian run was the eighth or ninth time (might be more, I’ve lost count) that I’ve seen them live since Soundwave 2010. I’ve interviewed each member before except for Chris Batten. Their bonkers three album run through Common Dreads (2009), A Flash Flood Of Colour (2012) to The Mindsweep (2015) – along with Tribalism, the Rat Race EP, and two fantastic singles, ‘Destabilize’ and ‘Quelle Surprised’ released in between – is staggering. Band was just on a real tear back then. I’ll likely spend the following half of my life – however long that is – closely following this English four-piece. I’m stressing this sentiment because while I adore this band, I’m also not a blind follower, and A Kiss For The Whole World, even with a few strong moments, comes off as surprisingly underwhelming.
As I listened more, the order of my thoughts about this record felt like Dennis’ speech at Guigino’s in It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia: “It was pretty good. It was alright. It wasn’t great. It was fine.” (I’m talking about an album instead of him going down on someone, but you get the idea.) So that’s where I ended up with A Kiss For The Whole World – it’s fine. Not bad, not great, just fine. I know, the world is surely ending as a result! In all seriousness, the reality is that if this wasn’t an Enter Shikari album, I might’ve not even cared for it. The fact that it’s an album from them counted for at least one point on the below score. So what do I actually care for here? Well, more or less five songs overall, if we’re being generous, which is over half the tracklist once we drop what are essentially three glorified interludes.
It’s maybe a little unfair but this was kinda pedestrian for them, a word I would have never used before now to describe Enter Shikari. When you think of their music, A Kiss For The Whole World is basically what you hear when you break it all down in your head, but nothing more. The fast-paced, decent opening title track, that’s got quite a hook, reveals this immediately. Everything we like about the band is here: punk and hardcore mixed over various forms of electronica, with big refrains, brisk tempos, classic Shikari trumpets, the mission statement for the record’s theme dished out, and all the remix-style production (which sounds great with Rou Reynolds steering the ship as their producer now). And I like that! I wanted that, but that’s not all I wanted it to be. Because that’s how this band has trained us with their releases over the years. Each album felt like a step forward in their vision, even if it maybe wasn’t their best work. This is not a bad thing for most bands but from Shikari? Well, there was a dissonance felt here.
In some ways, this could be the least daring record from the English boys yet. For many, that won’t mean shit, they just want a new Enter Shikari record. Plenty will love it for that reason alone, and that’s totally fair. For me, it comes off as a slight step backwards from the sheer creative momentum 2020’s Nothing Is True & Everything Is Possible displayed. Sorry to ‘this album, that album’ this review, but when your last one was perhaps your boldest, it’s hard not to. Yet I’m so invested in their music, so biased towards them with my enjoyment of practically their whole catalogue – from The Zone up till now, barring those meh 2022 singles, not sure what happened there – that I still get a kick out of this new album. But in my heart of hearts, I know that I should probably be digging the boot in more. Ah, the duality of a music writer.
Let’s get our hands dirty as we weed through A Kiss For The Whole World, starting with ‘It Hurts.’ Written about how whether it be people or societies, progress only comes after failure and us trying again, it packs an okay breakdown and some nice 2015-era synth work into its laser-focused verses. Nothing special but nothing egregious either. I don’t want to call it stagnation, but songs like this feel like mere continuations instead of innovation. And that right-to-left panned down-pitched vocal that moves across the track’s mix before Reynolds’ vocal phrases are too on the nose for me. As if that sound is the “fall” and what comes after is the “rise.” (Reminds me of the cheesy-ass howl that happens in ‘Undercover Agents‘ after the line “Tonight I’m howling with the wolves.” Bit corny for me, sorry.)
‘Leap into the Lightning’ is about taking charge of dire situations, a call to not wait out the proverbial storm and for one to jump into that lightning. Like ‘It Hurts,’ this is another simply fine, if straightforward and rather unsurprising Shikari tune that one could take or leave. Though I will say it was very nice to hear Rory C’s guitars front and centre at the start. As this band’s mix of vocals, drums, synths, bass and guitars – often prioritised in that order – doesn’t allow him the biggest sonic space sometimes. Right after, ‘feed yøur søul’ acts like a small follow-on remix of ‘Leap Into The Lightning’ for about 70 seconds. Honestly, it’s nothing. With a longer runtime, it could’ve been something. Shikari’s done this before, like the many interludes connecting the dots on Take To The Skies that aided the whole package. They’ll very likely continue to do this moving forward, they’ve just pulled it off better in the past, is all.
As a song, I’m mostly ambivalent about ‘Bloodshot.’ The chest-rattling bass from Batten and the low-end synths with heavy guitar ring-outs are a cute touch, but the pitched-up “hypnotised” repeating vocal is annoying after repeat listens. However, the message behind it of Twitter and Facebook algorithms being literally designed to show you rage-bait content, partisan headlines and reactionary takes to keep you engaged is accurate. (The video doesn’t even hide this, with that phone camera ratio.) As someone who’s now running on minimal social media – Messenger to keep in contact with various friends, and an anonymous Reddit account to see videos and news when I’m on break at work – I back this intent to properly identify when those platforms are doing that to us as users. Could’ve it have gone a step further in the topic? Yes, I think so, but if it helps some people understand the systems at play, then that’s a small win.
When it comes to ‘goldfĭsh ~’, I’m left frustrated. The mercifully short-lived semi-rapped vocals don’t help lyrical metaphors about control and powerlessness breeding resistance, which came off as shallow as your standard goldfish bowl. This idea of Capitalist Realism, entrapped minds, and being guided by bad actors is something they’ve discussed before, but with more depth and intrigue on the likes of ‘Wall,’ ‘Hoodwinker’ and ‘TINA’, all of which were better songs. However, the instrumental underneath is sweet, moving from something adjacent to Mick Gordon’s DOOM portfolio (just not as heavy) with crunchy guitars and distorted synths in the intro, morphing into something brighter and hookier come the end.
Earlier, I mentioned I saw them live last year. Good show, got covid, I’d do it again/10. Two comments entered my mind when the band glowed up The Forum. The first was “That Bowie cover is undercooked, stop”, and the second was “Did we really need the Anaesthetist remix directly after Anaesthetist itself?” I felt that time could’ve been better used to play ‘the king’, ‘No Sssweat,’ ‘There’s A Price On Your Head’ or any number of songs instead. I mention this as right after ‘Bloodshot,’ we get a small coda version with strings. Once again, that same thought drifted into my mind. As while the coda of it is novel, and they aren’t strangers to repeating melodic phrases, it was maybe unnecessary given the album’s overall short length and quality.
Then take closer ‘giant pacific octopus swirling off into infinity…’. When I saw the last two songs shared a name, I thought of the excellent ‘Marionettes’ duo. Alas, it’s nothing like that. Enter Shikari has in the past concluded albums with HUGE songs that leave such a powerful impression on you. The rising trumpets and anti-war memo of ‘Fanfare for the Conscious Man’; the life-affirming ‘Constellations’; and the damned solid book-end of ‘The Appeal and the Mindsweep II‘. Here, we receive nothing at all so grand, as it’s another brief interlude reprisal, ensuring their latest record feels like it’s missing a meaningful resolution.
Some say out of negativity comes positivity, like a blossoming flower out of the wastelands as per this album’s cover. So let’s chat about what this record gets right. Like the excellent ‘Giant Pacific Octopus (i don’t know you anymore)‘ – weird title but it’s all about identity and change, folks – that encapsulates the perfect animated feel that the finest Enter Shikari tunes offer. It’s a very neat, if short song that carries the skill of a band their size and experience, but with the movement of a group half their age, wrapped up in what makes their sound work so well. Easily the catchiest song here for me and one of my favourites overall.
The way ‘(pls) set me on fire’ flows, with its big chord strikes and how the melody and arrangement continually build up, feels like a small burn-off turning into a raging inferno. Whether you view it as a sacrifice to spurn action – like Thích Quảng Đức did in 1963 to protest the Vietnam War or like how Wynn Bruce did outside the U.S. Supreme Court when he immolated himself – or you see it as the band’s intention of a “projectile vomit of positive energy”, I think we can all agree it’s a good one. Just a really satisfying Shikari all-rounder that you can’t deny made great sense as the album’s lead single.
Another one of the album’s brighter moments, feeling like a Hospitalised era piece with how the synths and pitched vocals interact, we have the extremely fun ‘Jailbreak.’ A self-analysis piece about examining one’s beliefs and not being held captive by your opinion of yourself, this one goes alright. The whole thing is pushed along by the band’s super propulsive rhythms situated between their techno and jungle influences, hardcore energy, hi-fi electronics, and Rob Rolfe’s uncomplicated but always surgically tight beats. It’s stuff like this as to why people – not even me right now in this review – could even remotely say Shikari have gone soft or have fully lost their knack.
To me, the most interesting song here is ‘Dead Wood,’ the one that stuck with me the most after each and every listen. (I realise I’ve never seen an episode of that HBO show. Is it good? Has it aged well? Answers, people!). Carrying the album’s most personal sentiment, it tackles idleness, depression, and wanting to break free from those habits. It starts out as an orchestral piece before Reynolds comes in, everything eventually building up to a glorious crescendo with evocative strings, noisy synths, maximalist vocals, backing screams, and an invigorating call: “I want to feel the way you feel.” It’s the one moment here that feels adventurous. Funny considering that when you break it down, it’s not that new for them, either. It’s the sole piece that feels like it’s heading in a new direction, even if we never reach that destination. If ‘Elegy for Extinction’ was Rou Reynolds first spreading his composer wings with an actual symphonic orchestra, and this is what we get out of that, then let him cook.
A Kiss For The Whole World is an album about joy and patience, discovering and cherishing them both, a little bit of self-discovery, and reaching for compassion over anger where possible. (Not always the easiest thing to do, I think we can all agree on that.) In fact, a Waymond Wang line comes to mind: “The only thing I do know is that we have to be kind.” Even the title says this blatantly: Meet the world with a kiss – with an open palm instead of a fist. While compassion and empathy aren’t extinct yet, they are sometimes in short supply. So, if the latest Enter Shikari album isn’t all that great, and is just merely fine, then that’s okay! I can accept that, as I’ve still found some joy in it, and even though I’m not crazy about it, I will cherish the aspects of it I liked. After all, that’s what this is all about, right? Mwah.
P.S. Watch out for multiple lyrical references to previous tracks littered across this album!
Enter Shikari – A Kiss For The Whole World tracklisting:
1. A Kiss for the Whole World x
2. (pls) set me on fire
3. It Hurts
4. Leap into the Lightning
5. feed yøur søul
6. Dead Wood
9. Bloodshot (Coda)
10. goldfĭsh ~
11. Giant Pacific Octopus (i don’t know you anymore)
12. giant pacific octopus swirling off into infinity…
A Kiss For The Whole World drops April 21st via So Recordings/Ambush Reality. Pre-Order Here.
Review By Alex Sievers