Kula Shaker’s fall from grace here in the UK was so dramatic that it’s impossible not to attribute the relative commercial failure of Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts, as well as the band’s subsequent disillusionment, to the fact that Crispin Mills was an obnoxious brat who opened his mouth to say something stupid once too often. The heartbreaking thing was that despite their love of hippy mumbo-jumbo, Kula Shaker were still considerably more original than your standard Brit-pop knuckle-draggers. What’s more, they were a genuinely talented rock group that knew their way around a tune, and could even cover Joe South’s “Hush” as a stand-alone single without sounding like complete morons.
Initially it seemed that the brouhaha about Mill’s stupid soundbites to the press were going to have a minimal impact on the band, particularly as the strong single “Sound of Drums” charted highly in mid-1998. However delays caused by disagreements with super-producers George Drakoulias and Rick Rubin, and the subsequent recruitment of yet another super-producer in the shape of Bob Ezrin led to Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts being significantly delayed, and what little momentum and public support Kula Shaker had enjoyed was lost. When the album finally limped out in March ’99, it enjoyed a fraction of the sales of the band’s debut and it seemed to be game-over for Kula Shaker.
Listening to Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts twenty years later, is it as bad as some would continue to suggest? “Sound of Drums” aside, it is shorn of its predecessor’s accessibility, while the hippy-dippy bollocks is amplified somewhat, but it’s still a fair facsimile of a decent late 60s / early 70s rock album. If you’re a fan of music from the classic rock period and you’re willing to overlook Mills and his clumsy statements, Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts is actually an enjoyable listen and musically a world away from the death-rattle of Brit-pop that was echoing all around the UK music industry at the time.
Aside from the aforementioned “Sound of Drums”, “Mystical Machine Gun” was a solid enough single, but it just lacked the commercial punch required to remind Kula Shaker fans what they loved about them in the first place. The fact that the third single from the album, “Shower Your Love” was so weak and met with almost total indifference in terms of airplay and sales must have meant that the band knew that the writing was on the wall.
Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts isn’t a bad album, but it was up against a music press that were out for Kula Shaker’s blood, a music scene that was changing around them while they dawdled recording this album, and an indifferent fanbase who were unimpressed by the album’s overall lack of accessibility. Ultimately Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts was a case of the wrong album, by the wrong band, at the wrong time. While Peasants, Pigs & Astronauts may one day be rehabilitated as a misunderstood classic, the band that made it are unlikely to ever be able to leave the shadow of their frontman’s folly.