Kaiser Chiefs have never again reached the heights of their 2005 debut album Employment. In fact, it wouldn’t be unfair to say that the career of the Leeds five-piece has been on a downward spiral ever since, with each subsequent release more forgettable than the last. However, while the albums have not lived up to expectations, the Kaiser Chiefs have managed to pull the odd single out of the bag every now and then.
Their second album Yours Truly, Angry Mob had the addictive Ruby and Everything Is Average Nowadays, while even 2008’s Off With Their Heads had UK Top 5 single Never Miss A Beat. It was for perhaps this reason that they took the brave – or foolish – decision to give fans the opportunity of picking their 10 favourite tracks from 20 possible songs to create their own version of the band’s fourth album, The Future Is Medieval.
Whether it was an artistic move or something done for purely marketing purposes, the choose-your-own album project didn’t quite reinvigorate their career in the way they probably wanted it to – although it did have the obligatory catchy single in Little Shocks. Two years on from that venture and following the departure of drummer Nick Hodgson, Kaiser Chiefs are back with their fifth record, the snappily titled Education, Education, Education & War.
In many ways, the band’s new record is a case of them going back to basics – with none of the gimmicks of its predecessor – but with lead singer Ricky Wilson now a judge on BBC talent show The Voice, Kaiser Chiefs didn’t need to do anything too drastic to get attention this time around. The music is not a massive departure from what we’ve come to expect, either, as demonstrated by the lead single, Misery Company.
“It’s hard to believe that I smile in my sleep/ cause everyone leaves me/ I’m so hard to keep company,” sings Wilson, over a thumping beat and a gritty guitar hook. While the demonic laughter that punctuates the track is, admittedly, something new for Kaiser Chiefs, the rest of the song falls in line with the sort of spiky, punk pop that created popular anthems such as I Predict A Riot during the first phase of their career.
There are other similarities between Kaiser Chiefs’ fifth album and their Mercury Prize-nominated debut, too. Opener The Factory Gates sets the tone for the record, which sees the band retread Employment thematically, with lyrics about their dissatisfaction with the modern age. Ignoring the sound of seagulls that opens the song, it is actually one of the album’s highlights, with an incredibly infectious chorus.
“You and me on the front line, you and me and every time,” Wilson yells on Bow And Arrows, which continues the combative approach they take on Education, Education, Education & War – a title that takes inspiration from Tony Blair’s famed 1997 speech. Although the political angle is not fully explored in the way the record’s title suggests, six-minute Cannons does deliver an intriguing and rather damning verdict on politicians.
Elsewhere, the problem of delivering an album that is consistently strong from start to finish rears its head again. While tracks such as the anthemic Coming Home and Ruffians On Parade are perfectly serviceable, they are not particularly memorable when compared to the likes Oh My God. The same can be said of Meanwhile Up In Heaven or One More Last Song, with both tracks essentially Kaiser Chiefs in second gear.
That said, Education, Education, Education & War is a vast improvement on its predecessor. It may lack the standout hits of the band’s earlier material, but the record does at least have the direction and purpose that has previously been missing. Whether Kaiser Chiefs can re-establish themselves as one of Britain’s best is yet to be seen, but this is a good way to start.