Album Reviews

Kaiser Chiefs – Off With Their Heads

(B-Unique) UK release date: 20 October 2008

Kaiser Chiefs - Off With Their Heads “Who dares taint, with vulgar paint, the royal flower bed?” The nerve of those boisterous hacks from Leeds, waiting a mere year and a half after their sophomoric sophomore release Yours Truly, Angry Mob to turn loose more tenacious, Albarn-come-lately, Jam-infused Britpop anthems designed to pander to the generous masses. Surely, this is a band spiralling downward following its meteoric rise, content to continue making safe, radio-friendly pop nuggets as it clings desperately to the coattails of the forerunners that helped shape its sound.

Wait a tick. Must we really resort to being the fat, pompous, bad-tempered tyrant simply because these lads are productive, or are borrowing ideas from the precious rock stockpile packed by yester century’s mod and pop magnates?

In reality, Kaiser Chiefs are not the ill-fated, finger-pointing card painters, but instead a united front of old friends, attempting to deliver another dose of fun, lively pop rock. Perhaps it’s the quick turnaround, and/or the cool reception of Ruby (and the album that houses it), despite strong sales, that led the band to reference the phrase coined by the Queen of Hearts in its latest album’s title. Given the instant familiarity of the newest single Never Miss a Beat to hits in the group’s back catalogue, such a knee-jerk reaction from critical listeners may have been expected.

Or not. It may just be an aggressive quip from the torch and pitchfork-bearing lads – they are a rowdy bunch, after all.

Either way, Off With Their Heads should not be judged based on the Kaisers’ sales tally, the predecessors that have helped shape their sound, or the timing of the album’s release. Instead, the music should be judged at face value and in the context of the sound to which we were introduced on their first two efforts, as well as how willing the band is to evolve and grow. From that perspective, while recognizable revelry abounds and a couple of songs certainly have some kick, the album simply does not have legs.

This is not to say that the material should be written off entirely; on the contrary, the fleeting moments of fist pump-inspiring raucousness, reminiscent of the attention-grabbing hits on Employment, prove to be quite a treat.

The aforementioned lead single, complete with responsorial cheekiness and an anthemic chorus, beckons memories of I Predict A Riot, and should be the indirect cause for several bruises for those in attendance at the group’s upcoming shows. Meanwhile, the second half of the energetic You Want History is an emulation of Blur‘s Girls & Boys, complete with gender dependencies (“If the girls stop moving, the boys’ll stop moving. If the girls start moving, the boys will join in.” – a keen, although unlikely to be intentional, analogy for the credit crunch, which is currently plaguing financial markets worldwide).

It’s evident, though, that the Kaisers did not originally aim to record a full-length, as the year off turned EP turned Mark Ronson-produced eleven tracks’ depth and focus fall off the map all too frequently.

Erratic songwriting is evident from start to finish on the record. Evocative of Drugstore and Thom Yorke‘s El President is the clumsy album opener Spanish Meal, while the forgettable finale Remember You’re a Girl, which brings to mind John Lennon‘s signature sound, relies once again on the male and female dichotomy.

In actuality, on their latest, the gang leans pretty hard on the Albarn and company songbook. Playful, early Blur is evoked awkwardly on Always Happens Like That, for which Lily Allen (who has worked previously with Ronson) provides backup vocals, and Good Days and Bad Days, which includes goofball references to “sticks and stones and animal bones.”

Anything but peaches and cream is the low point Addicted to Drugs, which includes an unbearably simplistic melodic structure and a rehashing of lyrical ideas presented earlier (after Never Miss a Beat, there was no need to reprise complaints about broken televisions and calls to “join the team”). It’s the clearest indication of a band doing little to successfully amend their sound, or even recapture the freshness of their prior work.

“Sentence first! Verdict afterwards,” is not a valid approach to critiquing music. There is nothing inherently wrong with borrowing ideas from one’s forefathers (in fact, the Kaisers’ agreeable sound is due, in part, to tapping into a rather satisfying and healthy rock vein), releasing quick follow-ups (which was the status quo a few decades ago), or achieving commercial success in lieu of overwhelming critical praise.

With that in mind, no ulterior motives can be cited when the following is noted – Off With Their Heads is a disappointment. While business will be strong, with selections from the record in line to secure plenty of airplay, one can’t help but wish the cohesiveness and steadfast infectiousness (the kind that is strikingly immediate and indefinitely noodles around the brain) inherent in Employment were present on their latest release.

Kaiser Chiefs are capable of much more, and we can only hope that they have their heads about them when the time comes to pen album number four.

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Kaiser Chiefs – Off With Their Heads